2013 Golden Globes Week: ‘Silver Linings Playbook,’ or, As I Like to Call It: FuckYeahJenniferLawrence

Movie poster for Silver Linings Playbook
Written by Stephanie Rogers

It went down like this: My sister and I were visiting my mom for Thanksgiving in the tiny but lovely and water-surrounded town of Solomons, Maryland. This was like a four-day adventure, and after spending one day eating, another day sleeping and watching football (don’t judge me), and another day accidentally setting off the entire alarm system at the college where my mom teaches Labor Studies, we thought … why not take a break from almost getting arrested and see a movie?

I wanted to see Life of Pi, mainly because it was right down the street, and the next closest movie theater was a two-hour drive, or, as my mom likes to say, “It’ll only take us 45 minutes to get there.” That’s apparently code for two hours. But my sister was all, “I want to see Silver Linings Playbook because Bradley Cooper!” And I was all, “I don’t even know what that is!” And she was all, “You get to see whatever you want all the time because you live in New York and never hang out with anybody and have no life!” And I was all, “Fine, Asshole. Fine.” So that’s how I ended up bitterly walking into a movie theater after seething in a car for two hours to see a movie starring one of those bros from ApatowEtcetera. I didn’t expect much.
But OMG!
(I have no idea why I’m writing this review like a 34-year-old 14-year-old, but this is how it’s going down, and I can’t stop it.) 

Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook
If my sister had merely said, “That chick from Winter’s Bone is in it,” I would’ve been all, “You had me at Bone,” and we could’ve avoided a two-hour passive-aggressive insult-fest loosely refereed by my mom, who should really know the difference between 45 minutes and two hours by now, so don’t feel bad for her.
Look, Bradley Cooper isn’t The Worst. I kind of liked him in Limitless, and I could probably write a feminist analysis of Wedding Crashers if I felt like intellectually torturing myself for a minute, and The Hangover movies aren’t real (they fucking aren’t), and he did help out Sydney Bristow on a few episodes of Alias, so I’ll give the guy a break for all those things, but mainly for asking Sean Penn a question on Inside the Actors’ Studio in like 1992.

Tell me that’s not adorable.
But, who cares about Bradley Cooper when Jennifer Lawrence exists. I mean. Right? Winter’s Bone. The Hunger Games. And yes, say it with me: Silver Linings Playbook.
God I loved this movie. I’m not sure I know exactly why yet, or how it managed to incorporate elements of Dirty Dancing, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Goodfellas, He’s Just Not That Into You, Rain Man, and Rudy into one cohesive-ish film that seems to both celebrate and critique the embarrassing clichés inherent in each of those movies, but I know I loved it. I know Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper will deservedly get Oscar nods for their performances, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Best Picture Nomination bestowed upon it. I know the film felt—as most do these days—occasionally problematic in its representations of gender, but I also know that I left this particular film giving way less of a fuck about those problems than I normally do. That isn’t to say I’m letting it off the hook for its failures; I’m just saying let me love it for a minute. 

Jacki Weaver and Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook
Here’s the premise: Bradley Cooper plays Pat. He gets committed to a mental hospital for eight months after he brutally attacks the man who’s sleeping with his wife (Nikki). He gets diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He gets out. He moves in with his parents because Nikki left him and got a restraining order against him. He tries to get his illness under control in the hopes that Nikki will take him back. Because his married friends Ronnie and Veronica (Nikki’s friend) realize that the probability of Nikki taking him back is, like, no, they decide to introduce him to Veronica’s sister. Enter Tiffany aka fuckyeahjenniferlawrence.
Lawrence plays Tiffany, a young woman whose husband died unexpectedly the previous year (and we don’t find out the details of his death until a heart-wrenching scene toward the end of the film). I worried at first that Tiffany might veer into Manic Pixie I-must-save-this-dude-from-himself-so-hard territory, but that doesn’t entirely happen. What prevents it from happening? Tiffany is a depressed, lonely mess herself, and she’s in just as much need of “saving” as every other character. The film doesn’t name a specific mental illness for her, but we know she takes medication and “goes to a lot of therapy,” as some dude warns (read: SHE’S CRAZY). 

Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook
One could write a full-length book about whether this film accurately portrays mental illness or if it relies too heavily on conventional on-screen mental illness stereotypes. Most reviews I’ve read tend to focus on the fact that Silver Linings Playbook at least attempts to depict the strains mental illness places on the sufferer’s interpersonal relationships. (I will say, for the record, that Pat does start taking his meds once he realizes he needs them to manage his bipolar disorder, and he also consistently goes to therapy. I don’t understand how so many reviewers keep missing this, as it’s a pretty significant argument against the idea that Silver Linings pushes some kind of superficial, new age-y pop psychology agenda that promotes “the power of positive thinking” as the exclusive treatment for mental illness. It does not do that.)
What it does do, though, is take a subtle jab at the cult of masculinity in America. The conflicts in the film are often caused by male anger and aggression, and several scenes even conclude with male violence—like when Pat’s rage fit with his dad (DeNiro) leads him to (albeit accidentally) hit his mother in the face, or when he throws a book through a window because he hates the ending, or when he gets arrested for intervening in a brawl at a football game. The film makes it perfectly clear that this style of hyper masculine conflict resolution ain’t getting anybody anywhere. Pat begins to succeed and really change in Silver Linings only when he agrees to take his meds and become Tiffany’s partner in a local dance contest—and it doesn’t get less traditionally masculine than the phrase “local dance contest.” 

Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook
But, like Helen Hunt in The Sessions, it’s Jennifer Lawrence who grounds this film. Her performance as the emotionally disturbed Tiffany could’ve easily turned into a parody of women with depression (hi!), and the often absurdist nature of Silver Linings certainly lays a foundation for that. Tiffany never goes there, though. She fights to stay above ground, by dancing, by trying to forge a connection with Pat, and, as the film clearly indicates early on, by experimenting with medications to treat her (unnamed) illness.
Yes, she sleeps around. Yes, she manipulates Pat into entering the dance competition (eventually telling him a big ol’ horrible lie about Nikki). Yes, she buddies up with Pat’s over-nurturing mom (an excellent Jacki Weaver) to get information about Pat’s jogging routes so she can track him down—most of Pat and Tiffany’s initial conversations take place during exercise, ha.
And I didn’t love a lot of that. 

Jacki Weaver and Robert DeNiro in Silver Linings Playbook
I understood it, though, and even within the lack of believability at times, the emotions driving Tiffany’s decisions rang true for me. Who hasn’t been lonely and desperate to connect with another person? Who hasn’t made questionable choices in order to do that? I want to see those women on screen, women who I get to adore and despise, who make me feel uneasy and ecstatic, who I’m rooting both for and against. Why? Because I get to see dudes like that on screen all the time. We don’t expect our dude heroes to be perfect, and we shouldn’t expect it of our women heroes either. Where’s the fun—or truth—in that?
(Let me add, though, that I did not like the fact that Pat’s wife Nikki, who we see exactly one time in the movie, acts as nothing more than a vehicle to move the plot forward. Can we do away with that fucking women in refrigerators trope already?) 

Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro in Silver Linings Playbook
True story: I’m mentally ill. That’s probably the worst transition in the history of anything ever written, so I’mma just ignore it and keep on going. I’ve struggled with bipolar II for the past fifteen years, and I spent a good portion of that time undiagnosed (which is much scarier than the actual, very stigmatized diagnosis). Perhaps that’s one reason I loved the movie so much. The director, David O’Russell, mentions in an interview that his son is bipolar, so his desire to make the film stemmed from personal experience. That comes through wonderfully, in the actors’ performances especially, but also in the tragic comedy of it all. Silver Linings Playbook reminded me of one long obligatory party, with every mentally ill member of my family trying to interact with one another without snapping.
There might be fights, accusations, and the occasional horrific anxiety attack, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t understanding and love.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10061361418937000344 Lady T

    I loved this movie, too, for many of the same reasons you did.

    The one thing I DIDN’T love was the scene when Pat comes upon Nikki cheating on him. This may be a small thing to get hung up on, but it seemed so contrived. She’s cheating on her husband while music from their wedding ceremony is playing on a CD. All I could think was, “Who cheats on her husband while listening to her wedding music, except in movies where characters need something to trigger them into a violent episode?”

    Anyway, it’s a small thing, but it irked me. I still loved it, though, and thanks for sharing why the movie connected with you so much on a personal level.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13042740730713682014 Bitch Flicks

    Great piece, Steph!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13042740730713682014 Bitch Flicks

    Thanks, Max! I couldn’t help but love this movie.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13042740730713682014 Bitch Flicks

    Encouraging me to go and see it!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13042740730713682014 Bitch Flicks

    This movie was incredibly wonderful. Totally understated. I went with a guy friend and when the movie ended, we turned and looked at each other and he said, “That was like a romantic comedy. But it so wasn’t a romantic comedy!” Such a great movie!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13042740730713682014 Bitch Flicks

    I agree, Olivia. It felt so much fresher than what I’m used to seeing in rom-coms.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13042740730713682014 Bitch Flicks

    This makes me want to see the movie more.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13042740730713682014 Bitch Flicks

    now watching it. Amazing! I also relate/aspire to be like Tiff.

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