Silver Linings Playbook, the latest “comedy” “drama” from David O Russell (The Fighter, I Heart Huckabees) starring The Hangover’s Bradley Cooper and current megastar-in-waiting Jennifer Lawrence, is an unabashed crowd pleaser. It pleased crowds at the Toronto International Film Festival Two taking home the Audience Award (a precursor to Oscar glory), it pleased crowds of critics, gathering near unanimous rave reviews, and it will no doubt please crowds in cinemas this weekend on both sides of the Atlantic. But if the BBC’s recent documentaries into Jim Jones and Adolf Hitler taught us anything it’s that pleasing a crowd isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. Because, crowd-pleaser or not, Silver Linings Playbook is not a good film.
Against the wishes of his doctors, Pat Solatano is released from the mental institution he was sentenced to for savagely beating his ex-wife’s lover. At home, under the inappropriate care of his mother (Jacki Weaver) and father (Robert DeNiro), Pat meets Tiffany, recently widowed and thus burdened with “issues of her own”. Despite lacking any social grace and being dangerously obsessed with his ex-wife, Tiffany falls for Pat, and as Pat aids Tiffany in a dance competition the two form a bond.
Mental instability. Triumph over adversity. Championing the underdog. Sports references for him. Dance sequences for her. Happy endings for all. Such are the crowd pleasing (that word again) qualities of Silver Linings Playbook it’s a struggle not to think the entire project has been focus grouped into existence. This everything-but-kitchen-sink cinema isn’t an unusual approach to making a movie – mainstream cinema has always been made by committee – but it’s surprising how many seem to have been suckered in by it.
The majority of the forgiving reviews seem to centre around the chemistry between Cooper and Lawrence and there’s no denying that the latter deserves her accolades. The film, however, can’t take an ounce of responsibility for her kudos, the truth is she stands out because she’s an extraordinary talent. Who else can boast an Oscar nomination and the ability to support the weight of a franchise before their first quarter century has passed? That she’s successfully watchable in a poor role simply proves her credentials more.
Perhaps it’s the attractiveness of its leads but Silver Linings Playbook feels like one big lie, full of wholly dislikeable characters, making terrible decisions and ultimately being rewarded for them. As a fun, fantasy ‘Hollywood with a capital H’ movie this would all be par for the course but the turbulent tone jars alongside the subject (in this case mental illness with violent overtones) which is treated as the height of hilarity. The film’s number one failure is its ability to gloss this over saying nothing more than “true love will fix deep psychological problems.”
Sadly this simplistic and dishonest coda is the kind of crowd-pleasing tosh that will pull in both box office gold and multiple awards. Silver Linings Playbook plays things so safe it becomes dangerous.
Hollow at best, irresponsible at worst. Silver Linings Playbook is by no means a terrible film, but its imminent ubiquity is entirely unjustifiable. At present it’s riding a high and beautiful wave of adulation via Emperor’s New Clothes syndrome. With blinkers off history may judge David O Russell’s latest as harshly as it deserves. For now one can only hope that its success doesn’t lead to the mass greenlighting of equally suspect material.