The Review: If you visit my Twitter profile, you’ll find this at the top of the page, my vaguely self-deprecating description:
Now, for anyone that’s read any amount of this blog, you’ll be aware that I have a somewhat addictive personality. When I invest in a subject, I tend to invest hard, having seen 635 films in the cinema in the last five years and 447 of those since I started writing this blog. But if you think that’s an actual OCD, then you’re very wrong; obsessive, clearly, but it lacks the physical compulsions which can debilitate its sufferers and in the most severe cases ruin their lives. I’ve always known that the day I start a family is the day that my cinema dwelling will dwindle to nothing for a while, and I’m ready for when that day comes. But from schizophrenia to psychosis, mental illness is generally misunderstood in our society, so any film looking to imbue its characters with such afflictions would be advised to tread carefully.
Silver Linings Playbook features a number of characters who have an array of mental difficulties: Pat (Bradley Cooper) is discharged from a mental hospital after his mother (Jacki Weaver) intervenes, but struggles to come to terms with both his home life and the absence of his wife, estranged after Pat’s bipolar disorder came to the fore when he catches her cheating. His only real friend (Chris Tucker) is still struggling with his own mental health issues and regularly attempts to escape from the same hospital, but even he can see that the more classically depressed Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) has an interest in Pat, but both Pat and Tiffany have their own deeper motivations for wanting to spend time with the other. Meanwhile Pat also struggles to reform a bond with his father (Robert De Niro), who shows his own signs of both obsessive behaviour and addiction and which start to come to the fore when Pat struggles.
In terms of the film itself, it’s worthwhile trying to separate the characters from their afflictions for the depictions of mental illness are shaky at best. Oddly, Chris Tucker fares best in that respect, as he appears outwardly normal and little attempt is made to characterise his illness, which actually makes his the best description. For the others (Pat / Pat Sr. / Tiffany) the seeds of their illnesses can be seen, but the characteristics are poorly sown by David O. Russell’s script (based on Matthew Quick’s novel) and somehow the Asperger’s syndrome of Pat’s literary counterpart attempts to become bipolar disorder here. It wouldn’t matter so much if the characters were more generally well written, but the script gives them little else to feed off for most of the time and when it does, the contrast is sharp; Jennifer Lawrence fares best in that respect, again getting the chance to show off the skills that got her recognised for Winter’s Bone and in one pivotal scene, waltzing in and acting everyone else, De Niro included, off the screen. Cooper, De Niro, Weaver and even Tucker put in good work but this turns out to be Jennifer Lawrence’s show.
Successfully portraying mental illness on screen is one challenge that Silver Linings meets only with partial success; the other half hearted attempt is to put a new wrinkle on the romantic comedy. For a film so serious for much of its running time, the occasional laughs sit uncomfortably, although thankfully they are driven out of the situations and never at the expense of the characters themselves. But the third act turns into the kind of romantic comedy plot that’s hamstrung the careers of the likes of Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler, and it’s only the likeability of Lawrence and Cooper that helps to see it through. It is predictable in the extreme, and once the pieces are laid out the last act plays out with a total lack of surprise and not much more suspense. It’s a totally mixed bag directorially from Russell as well, shepherding his characters through to the resolution with only occasional flashes of the touch which he’s shown in his best films. A mixed bag all round then, worth seeing for the performances but not doing very much to advance just about anything else.
Why see it at the cinema: The drama of the last act comes across well in the cinema, even if it is lacking in surprise, but it’s not enough of a comedy to benefit from the audience buzz and there’s nothing remarkable in direction or cinematography. If you’re keen, worth catching in the cinema, but otherwise wait for the DVD.
The Score: 6/10