Silver Linings Playbook
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
While Five Star the group might be consigned largely to history, I can’t help thinking of them every time a discussion of five stars comes up in the context of film, because I have that idiotic kind of brain. With the two largest circulation film magazines in this country both working on a one to five star scale (and at least one other working on “out of five” principles), the five star sliding scale has become something of an industry standard, as posters look to be able to crowd their commendations with reviews from members of the press with as many stars as possible.
I, somewhat more in line with online ratings schemes such as IMDb, rate my scores out of 10. In terms of alignment, I consider only 10/10 films to be worthy of the five star gold standard, and since I began keeping records in 2008, these have been the films to get the ultimate Evangelist recommendation:
2008: Waltz With Bashir, The Dark Knight, No Country For Old Men, There Will Be Blood, Wall•E and Hunger
2009: (500) Days Of Summer, Let The Right One In, Up, District 9, The White Ribbon and Synecdoche, New York
2010: Of Gods And Men, Inception, The Social Network, Kick-Ass, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Toy Story 3, Winter’s Bone and Mary And Max
2011: Confessions, Drive, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, True Grit, Take Shelter and The Guard
2012: Looper, Moonrise Kingdom, The Cabin In The Woods, Shame, The Artist, Robot & Frank and The Imposter
Given that I average over 100 films a year, you can see it’s a relatively small proportion that are getting that elusive ★★★★★ rating from me. This year especially, where the main box office tentpoles such as The Avengers¹, The Dark Knight Rises and Skyfall have gotten so many five star plaudits elsewhere and only four from me, it feels an odd list that I’ve ended up with. There’s also some slight shame in saying that Shame is still my film of the year, for while I still believe it’s a story utterly of our times married to Steve McQueen’s exemplary film making, it’s not exactly the kind of movie I want to discuss with my mother when I call her on a Sunday afternoon.
What November has promised is the possibility of contenders to both the five star crown, and possibly even films which could nab that illustrious title of “Favourite Film Of The Year”, taken by No Country For Old Men, Up, Scott Pilgrim and Confessions over the last four years. Empire Magazine reviewed 32 films this month, and gave 21 of them four stars or more. I’ve picked out six that might just be able to take that fifth star.
I still take no pleasure in reminding people that There Will Be Blood still holds the record for the number of audience walk-outs of any film I’ve ever seen (23). There’s been much discussion on Twitter this week about reviewers giving it various ratings, where even the mainstream press have been divided from ★★★★★ all the way down to ★. I’ve been a fan of PTA ever since Boogie Nights – although telling my mother to watch Magnolia was, in hindsight – a mistake, but this one could definitely go either way.
Empire magazine have awarded this five stars, and say what you like about Kim Newman, he knows his horror. I’m seeing this as part of a Fright Fest all-nighter later today; earlier this year I saw six films in a full day session at their weekend event in London, the best of which was the again uncomfortably misogynistic Maniac with Elijah Wood. But there’s no reason why a horror movie shouldn’t be able to get on that list.
Speaking of lists, Total Film published a recent list featuring the 50 Best Movies Of Their Lifetime in their most recent issue. It’s a very populist list, but at the same time Michael Haneke has two entries in the top 20 (Hidden and The White Ribbon). I’ve developed a deep admiration for Haneke’s films and so consequently this is probably the most anticipated film of the month for me, even if I am expecting it to be absolutely devastating.
Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet
I saw so many films at the Cambridge Film Festival this year that I’m still writing them all up. (Days 9 – 11 coming next week. Hopefully.) However, I still missed a couple of films I was really looking forward to, including Ugandan-set documentary Call Me Kuchu and this story of a man following his passion when his body lets him down. I also love that this trailer doesn’t feel constrained to the normal two minute and thirty second rule that seems to define most full length trailers these days.
Silver Linings Playbook
I heard about Oscar buzz for this one just before I saw the trailer, and having seen it my first thought was “Really?” However, it does carry the caption near the end confirming that Dave Karger from Entertainment Weekly thinks it’s the best film he’s seen this year. Now, there might be someone out there that thinks Keith Lemon: The Movie is their ultimate highlight, but we’re all different and Playbook would certainly be an easier sell to my mother. In terms of mainstream entertainment this month, it looks like this and Argo have the best shot of achieving greatness. (Also, given that we have a three hour Romanian film called Aurora on the way, a great month for films beginning with A.)
Nativity 2: Danger In The Manger
Had you going.
I bought Kill List on Blu-ray last Christmas, with the intention of watching it to see if it made my top 40 of the year. It’s still in the cellophane. I probably need to stay in more. This year’s list of films I ought to watch on DVD but probably won’t have time include Monsieur Lahzar and The Turin Horse.
¹ A reminder that we don’t call it Avengers Assemble round here. I can tell the difference between Uma Thurman and Scarlett Johansson, thank you very much.