My January entry in a look back at the best 12 films of the 2010s.
2012. The world was supposed to end maybe? A crazy man in Colorado with a bunch of guns killed 12 people at a screening of "The Dark Knight Rises." A Pakistani girl named Malala stood up for women's rights in the Middle East. The Giants won the World Series. Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey. Barack Obama was elected President for the second time. I got engaged to be married. And my favorite movie of the year was a story about a father, a son, his new lady friend, all their mental health issues, some dancing, and a football team...
"The only way you could meet my crazy was by doing something crazy yourself."
- Pat Solitano, Jr. (played by Bradley Cooper)
I remember really getting back into paying attention to the Oscar season build up online the year after this movie garnered such praise for its performances, even landing a Best Actress win for Jennifer Lawrence. I had already named it the best movie of 2012, at least in terms of the 30 or so titles I had seen. Anyway, I read an article, one of those here's-the-thing-everyone-loves-so-let's-find-something-to-nitpick-think pieces that went in on its supposed poor depiction of mental illness.
What. A. Crock.
Whoever wrote that piece didn't grow up with family members battling mania and depression and the compulsive behaviors that go with it. In fact, the Sunday afternoons of the NFL season that moves us through David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook are so relatable that I never even once considered second-guessing the films depiction of mental illness. It runs through all of the characters as they battle around the recovery of Pat Solitano, Jr., a manic depressive former high school teacher with violent mood swings and rage, recently released from a court-ordered stint in a psychiatric hospital.
He is played with fearless energy by Bradley Cooper. Driving him is his desire to make things right with his wife, Nikki, who has a restraining order against him after Pat caught her cheating and reacted by savagely beating her lover. Surrounding and dividing him is his compulsive gambling addict and bookmaker father, Pat (Robert De Niro, at his late-career best), clearly the apple tree Pat, Jr. fell from, and a new acquaintance named Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence, also fearless), a young woman on the back edge of a nervous breakdown that came as a result of her husband's untimely death. Their Meet Cute is a discussion of Pat's choice to wear a DeSean Jackson jersey to a dinner party and the parade of pills doctors prescribed them in the wake of their various collapses. They can't seem to get rid of each other. He needs Tiffany to get a letter to Nikki. She needs Pat to help her train for a city dance competition. They are a match made in Philly, which means the inevitable complication hinges on the well-being of the Eagles on football Sundays and which various friends and neighbors are sitting in which chair, eating Mrs. Solitano's (Jackie Weaver) crabby snacks and homemades, holding the lucky handkerchief.
And then O. Russell makes similar choices with other songs and moments. The violent rage induced by Stevie Wonder's "My Cherie Amour." The loveliness and passing of fall into winter with Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash's duet of Dylan's "Girl from the North Country," which is used in the most melancholy training montage in movie history. It moves. It feels. It bridges the gap that divides Pat and ultimately leads to the film's final act, which starts with an Eagles pregame tailgate that goes horribly wrong (and scored to The White Stripes' "Hello Operator," a bad gambling beat, and a new bet, a parlay...that the right mix of people can make their own destiny.
Silver Linings Playbook is one of the movies I've rewatched the most this decade. It is comforting in a way that few movies are. It is one of the joys of American cinema in the 2010s. I love the way it moves and feels. Football and anguish and the descent into winter, of the Sunday it brings out in us, no matter what day of the week. "The world will mess you up 10 ways to Sunday," Pat says, "...but Sunday is my favorite day again."
This is a movie that reminds us, even if you find it too neat and packaged up in the end, to go out on a limb, to forget fear, to embrace what's right in front of us all along. We, the anxious and unstable, work this life everyday for the luck we get, the happy ending, even if the silver linings in this tough world are the simplest, smallest victories.
My other favorite 2012 releases:
"The Perks of Being a Wallflower"
"The Place Beyond the Pines"
"Beasts of the Southern Wild"