I don’t subscribe to this belief that the characters I’m watching on-screen have to be likable. Some of the most compelling characters we’ve gotten over the years – Tony Soprano, Daniel Plainview, Walter White – have been among the most despicable. I don’t have to get all warm and fuzzy when characters like this take the screen… I just want them to be interesting. But when you eliminate that complexity and replace it with annoyance, creating characters that are both unlikable and grating, what you’re left with is a film that becomes unbearable to watch, something like David O. Russell’s latest, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK.
In this bizarre romantic comedy, Bradley Cooper plays Pat Solitano, a filter-free motormouth incapable of not saying inappropriate things on a regular basis. Remember Jack Nicholson in AS GOOD AS IT GETS…? Even he had more acceptable social skills, and he was an asshole. Granted, he was an asshole with a bit of a sickness, but at least he had an excuse. Pat believes he has some sort of excuse, too, having walked in on his wife having an affair to their wedding song. In the moment, he snaps, nearly beating her lover to death, resulting in some time away at a mental facility for eight months as part of his plea bargain. His clinical diagnosis is bipolar disorder, but that seems like a cop-out reason in this over-diagnosed society we live in to explain his ordinarily rude behavior. Russell must have thought Cooper’s natural charm might make this type of obnoxious character funny, and he couldn’t be more wrong. Pat’s motivations are to continue on with his positive life outlook in the hopes of getting back together with his wife who has since left, and he’ll spend nearly the entire movie going on and on about their great marriage and how much he loves her, even though he caught her fucking one of her fellow teachers in the shower to “My Cherie Amour” and then had to pay a severe penalty for his impulsively violent reaction to it. I’m not really sure where the silver lining can be found in that.
Oh, it must be that it then opened up the opportunity for him to cross paths with Tiffany, played by Jennifer Lawrence, a young widow with her own problems, aside from the fact that Pat is quick to remind her that her husband is dead constantly to the point that even I started to get visibly irritated at not only his lack of tact but his obsession with making others uncomfortable. After all, the first one or two times might be considered an accident… once you get behind that, you just become a prick. However, for some reason that makes no sense to either the characters who seem to hate each other at one point or to me, they continue to defy both logic and reason in arranging to spend time together. Pat at least has some far-fetched reason, in that Tiffany is a way for him to get a letter to his now-departed wife, but this once again goes back to the ludicrous idea that trying to get back together with his wife, who has a restraining order against him, is an intelligent thing to do, and it’s hard to find any intrigue in a characters whose entire sense of being is one made up of stupidity and bad decisions.
In any event, Pat agrees to help Tiffany enter into some dance competition in exchange for delivering his letter, I kid you not, setting off an inevitable and understated chain of events that are supposed to be romantic in this twisted world, in which Pat ultimately needs to come to terms with his love life, deciding between the woman he thinks he loves and the one he doesn’t yet realize he has feelings for. That puts the movie in the contrived quirkiness of two fucked-up individuals who really have no other choice but to try to help each other… and that’s not a good thing.
If there’s one part of SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK that didn’t have me itching to leave the theatre as quickly as possible, it was Robert De Niro as Pat’s father, Pat Sr. The elder Pat lost his job and for some reason decided to become bookie, hoping to make money taking bets on his beloved Eagles. This father-son relationship is fascinating to me as we learn more about Pat the father. Let’s just say the apple didn’t fall very far from the tree, as reflected in why Pat Sr. isn’t making treks down to watch the Eagles in-person as big of a die-hard fan as he is. Then you factor in a blue-collar father doing the best he can for his son but not knowing how to really deal or react to a son growing up who may have had a different psychological makeup. Now that’s a movie I’m interested in seeing. Watching one scene between De Niro and Cooper where dad puts on the table that he feels as if he’s failed his son carries more emotion in it than the entire rest of this film which tries its hardest to be different while, in reality, not straying too far from the formula of a Katherine Heigl movie.
There are scenes that run on for far too long, desperately in need of an editor perhaps more than an Apatow production. There’s a dance sequence so poorly shot you wonder why Russell even chose to have a dance competition be a part of the climax. Outside of the periodic Chris Tucker appearances that give the film a little bit of life, there isn’t much silver lining to sitting through SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK. This is a dysfunctional movie about dysfunctional characters that you can’t wait to get away from. Who really wants to spend a lot of time with that?
"The Infamous Billy The Kidd"
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