Big Screen Ballyhoo – “Silver Linings Playbook”

I absolutely love stories about dysfunctional people. Honestly, they may be my favorite stories, be they in books or theatre or film.

“Silver Linings Playbook” is definitely one of those movies. Directed by David O. Russell, this movie is one of the Oscar darlings, with nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing and each of the four acting Oscars, the first movie since 1981’s “Reds” to manage that feat.

The movie starts with Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) being taken home from a mental health facility by his mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver). Pat’s immensely superstitious Philadelphia Eagles fan father, Patrizio (Robert DeNiro), is a bit worried about Pat being home from the facility, but tries to use Pat as a lucky charm to help the Eagles win and thus boost his income for his bookmaking, intended to support his eventual restaurant.

Pat’s return to the life at home is troubled at best. He has to go to court-mandated therapy with Dr. Patel (Anupam Kher), where we learn why he was in the hospital. Apparently, Pat nearly beat the man his wife Nikki (Brea Bee) was cheating on him with, and the song that was playing when he discovered them – his wedding song, Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour” – sets him off into hysterics when he hears it or imagines it playing.

Pat ends up going to dinner with old friends, and friends of his wife Nikki, Ronnie (John Oritz) and Veronica Maxwell (Julia Stiles). While there, he meets Veronica’s sister Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a very recent widow who is just about as messed up as Pat is. She still acts as though she’s married to her dead husband, as Pat acts with Nikki, and has recently lost her job because she slept with several coworkers.

Pat, trying to reach out to Nikki and prove he’s a better man, agrees to help Tiffany with a dance competition in return for her slipping a letter to Nikki under the radar, in spite of the restraining order currently against him. While dancing together, with some choreographic assistance from Pat’s mental health facility friend Danny (Chris Tucker), they both work on their neuroses and friendship, growing as people and learning more about themselves.

Honestly, this may be my favorite Best Picture nominee, even moreso than “Les Miserables.” Like I said, I absolutely adore stories about broken people. Someone suggested that’s because I’m dark or something… but I like to think of it as the stories being more honest about people. The perfect people are always the ones we can’t actually connect with. Superman is easily one of my least favorite superheroes because he’s just too good. He’s got too much. In the same way, stories about “ordinary, normal people” turn out too often to be about people that have nothing wrong with them beyond being, say, lonely or in not the greatest job.

I’m not suggesting everyone’s secretly bipolar or depressed or any other medical malady. I am saying, though, that stories about broken people crawling back toward normalcy, trying to etch out a life despite their fractured psyches, are far more interesting and compelling for me. People that live lives that aren’t a perfect fit, that aren’t exactly comfortable, trying to figure out how to make it work… that’s what I enjoy, and that’s a large part of what “Silver Linings Playbook” is.

This is a fantastic movie, I think, and I’d put it in my top 5 of 2012 now. Granted, I’ve seen it in 2013… so maybe I’ll put it on a top movies of 2013 list at the end of the year. The acting, particularly from DeNiro, Cooper and Lawrence, is phenomenal. Cooper and DeNiro share some frightening and amazing moments, and Lawrence is certainly showing off her talents throughout the movie. It’s perfectly paced, amazingly acted and utilizes music and editing very well. The moment where Pat begins to have a breakdown searching for his wedding video is one of the more emotional and harrowing moments of the film, and fights with some of the best moments of the year.

Now that the movie is finally out in wide release, do yourself a favor and go see it. It’s so much more than a romantic comedy. It’s a story of people that anyone should be able to connect with.

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