Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Top of the 10s: Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

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.

So there's a romantic comedy inside of a family dysfunction dramedy, and it's a delight all the way through, even at its hardest, heaviest moments. It is elevated and could be called contrived, but the fun, the joy of this movie is in its openness to the power of great acting and the perfectly chosen needle drop. Take the scene where Pat first finds himself attracted to Tiffany, after a Halloween night date at a local diner that goes horribly wrong. Pat insults her. She throws a tantrum. It's on a level with (and nods to) Nicholson's chicken salad rager in another dysfunctional family dramedy, 1970's Five Easy Pieces. But then there's the aftermath of the date. Pat goes home on a tear. He must have his wedding video. He has to see Nikki's face. He has to remember his mission. Led Zeppelin's "What Is And What Should Never Be," a bi-polar song in its own right, soft and sad then violently intense in waves plays not as source but as if inside Pat's head. Pat, Sr. enters to try and calm the situation. It escalates with the music as Mom screams and neighborhood lights come on and the local cop beats on the door. Every single performance in this sequence, from Tiffany's breakdown to Pat and Pat to the neighborhood cop is at the highest level possible. And it is one of the most affecting movie scenes of the decade.

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:

"Moonrise Kingdom"
"Frances Ha"
"The Perks of Being a Wallflower"
"Spring Breakers"
"The Place Beyond the Pines"
"Beasts of the Southern Wild"
"Django Unchained" 


  1. Great look at an even greater movie. My family and I suffer with mental illness issues, and this movie resonated heavily with me. I too read a lot of hate regarding how this movie portrayed mental illness, and i was like..."this is exactly what it is. at least for me. and i'm a reputable source!" haha. Obviously, it's not the same for everyone, but to say it doesn't do mental illness justice is ignorant...and obviously coming from writers who have no clue what they're talking about.

    1. Yes!! The portrayal of mania and OCD in this movie is spot on. There are scenes where I feel like I'm in my own home.

  2. I thought this movie did a very good job of depicting mental illness. I can maybe see how they wrapped it up too neatly but even that's a bit of a reach because we're not clued in on any amount of therapy going on after their dance competition. I still really like this, easily in my top 10 for that year still. Great post!

    1. Thanks! I have no issue with the happy ending. It makes me happy.

  3. While I do think the film has gotten overrated over the years through re-watches. It was spot-on about mental illness as I still go through with it from time to time but I don't use it as an excuse. Plus, it did kind of feel close to home as it relates to Robert de Niro's character who is OCD about football as the same way my dad is towards sports and westerns.

    1. De Niro's dad character is so relatable. It's a great performance. I have never wavered on this movie. It never gets old for me. Never seemed overrated.

  4. Lovely review. I have a lot of love for this movie, I went to see it just because I was a big JLaw fan at the time, it was the first 'Oscar-sy' movie I'd really seen and it opened my eyes up to a whole new world of movies!

    1. So glad this movie got to you. It's a real treat.

  5. This movie is fantastic. Haven't seen it since I was diagnosed with a mental illness, but it seemed very realistic.

    (Quick question: wouldn't Frances Ha, Mud, The Place Beyond the Pines & Spring Breakers be 2013 since they received a theatrical release in 2013 & were only at festivals in 2012? At least that's how I'd put it).