I don’t think it’s a secret that I really like odd romantic comedies. Still, the synopsis of Silver Linings Playbook sounds like a step off from being Poor Taste: The Movie.
Plot Summary: After an episode brought on by his bipolar disorder, Pat (Bradley Cooper) is institutionalized. Upon his release, he wants to repair his marriage but meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who likewise has psychological issues and is struggling with the loss of her husband. This is a romantic comedy.
Yeah, see how that could go wrong?
There’s a fine line to walk here. The line is even finer when you watch the trailer and see that Tiffany apparently slept with everyone in her office as a result of the loss of her husband. I might’ve jumped the gun a little, but hey, it’s easy to be skeptical toward romantic comedies and how they deal with love and sexuality.
But I was overwhelmingly surprised by how Silver Linings managed to respect its characters while also having a sense of humor. Pat, who’s the protagonist, has several scenes where he loses his cool as a result of his bipolar disorder. They’re not treated lightly, but rather as serious incidents of a serious issue. Tiffany likewise has her moments.
There’s also a recognition of humor, though; it’s not so much in the disorders, but in how people react. Pat has no filter, and Tiffany doesn’t care what people think. The amount of discomfort this causes in others is hilarious, and it’s not crossing that line because we’re not laughing at these people’s serious conditions but rather how afraid most people are of their honesty.
The real kicker though is how well Silver Linings handles gender and sexuality. Warning: there’ll be some minor spoilers but nothing huge. Take that part of the trailer I referenced above: Pat’s amazed by Tiffany’s liberal sexuality. Tiffany’s pretty matter of fact about it. But just minutes later in the movie itself, Pat implies that he’s somehow better than her, as if the violent episode that led to his stint at a mental hospital isn’t as “crazy” as Tiffany’s reaction to the loss of her husband. Tiffany points out his hypocrisy, as if he’s superior than Tiffany because she slept around, yet he was asking twenty-one questions about the details. He’s allowed to be sexually-minded, but not her. She storms out, furious.
But then, immediately after, the sexism is flipped on its head. Pat accosts Tiffany outside of a theater (or someplace like that), and tries to explain himself. She screams that he’s harassing her, implying that he has very malicious intentions, and everyone in the area starts freaking out at Pat. They’re all ready to pounce on him at Tiffany’s word, despite not knowing the context of the situation. She relents when she realizes this. Silver Linings recognizes hypocrisies and pretensions of both genders, and that’s something you don’t see often in most movies, no less romcoms.
The root of Silver Linings‘ ability to avoid gender roles and all that goes back to how it treats the mental illnesses so respectfully: O’Russell, who both directed and wrote this movie, treats Tiffany and Pat as human beings, and thus it’s fairly hard to make them sexist caricatures.
Consider this, for instance: Tiffany calls herself a slut for her actions. While that term is loaded, she also adds on that she’s not ashamed of who she is, even if she wishes she hadn’t slept around so much. She isn’t exactly proud of her actions, but she won’t hate herself for who she is. She can be sexually liberal, criticize that liberality, and not be shamed by the rest of the world. The tightrope O’Russell walks here is impeccable.
I should add that a lot of the strengths in Pat and Tiffany come from Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence’s performances, which are incredible. When I heard there was Oscar buzz surrounding Lawrence for this role, I was baffled, but then I saw the movie. She embodies confidence and reluctance simultaneously. She’s full of contradictions and complexities, and she takes a fairly well written character and makes her human.
But I’m sad that Cooper isn’t getting equal buzz, because holy shit is he good.
I will just throw out there that this movie is far from perfect. Often, and especially early on, characters spell out back story or conflict. It’s all well-delivered, but it comes across as sloppy writing and can detract from the film overall. There are several minor quibbles I had, but I’m not focusing on them because: a) this isn’t really a review and b) they didn’t ruin the movie for me. Still, I didn’t want anyone to read this and think they’re going to see the best film of the decade.
Overall, Silver Linings is a really impressive movie, but don’t think that it’s in-your-face about gender relations. The subtext is there, but if you’re just in the mood for a hilarious movie with a strange romance, this is absolutely for you. I was delighted, and it’s the perfect antidote to the usual stream of average to sub-par romcoms that come out. If I still haven’t managed to convince you that Silver Linings is worth seeing, then what if I told you that Chris Tucker is in it, and actually quite funny and good? I dare say it’s his best “crazy” role since The Fifth Element.
Check out next week’s The Tuesday Zone for a good ol’ fashioned review of Michael Haneke’s Palme d’Or-winning film Amour.