After watching the barrage of exploding heads, unthinkable tortures and international crises that were “Django Unchained,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” and “Argo,” it was a relief to walk out of “Silver Linings Playbook” without the urge to look twice over my shoulder.
Nonetheless, due to all the media hype surrounding the movie, I was expecting a film that redefined the genre of romantic comedy, and in this I was disappointed.
The film begins with the engaging story of Pat (Bradley Cooper), a man with bipolar disorder who returns home from a psychiatric facility to live with his parents, including his OCD father (Robert De Niro), to get his life back on track.
Pat, fixated on rebuilding his marriage and hindered only by a good ole’ restraining order, meets the indefinably crazy Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who agrees to help him if he will be her partner in a dance competition.
This plot twist, which takes place almost exactly halfway through the movie, is where this tale full of complex characters and twisted motives devolves into your average, sometimes laughable, predictable romantic comedy.
Like many viewers, I appreciate the filmmakers’ choice to incorporate a serious, thoughtful perspective on mental health into the rom-com genre.
However, the second hour of the film lacks the subtlety and realism that makes the first hour so compelling.
In the second half, this melting pot of clinical disorders is neatly resolved by a dance performance.
After just a few dance lessons, Pat can suddenly sleep soundly through the night and miraculously overcomes his obsession with his wife.
And—what’s that?—a dance number in which the protagonists break all the rules in an edgy, modern routine instead of conforming to society’s stuffy expectations? What an original plot twist that no one has already seen in “Dirty Dancing,” “Save the Last Dance,” “Center Stage,” and nearly every other dance movie in history!
Still, this far-too-tidy resolution to such an honest, messy story is not my biggest complaint.
I was much more let down by the film’s portrayal of women and its gendered treatment of mental illness.
The movie features a cast of highly unlikeable women. There is Pat’s unfaithful wife Nikki, who treats him as an inferior, cheats on him when he doesn’t lose weight and whose only apparent redeeming quality is her good looks.
There is Pat’s friend Ronni’s demanding, neurotic wife who always “wants more,” “brings him down,” “keeps his balls in her purse” and won’t let him listen to the music he likes.
And finally, there is Tiffany, who is, as far as we are ever told, just a “crazy slut.”
Though we know that she has taken medication, her craziness is never openly diagnosed and manifests only in her erratic outbursts, lying and promiscuity.
Oh, but she knows a lot about football and downs beers with the guys, so all is forgiven from the perspective of a script so clearly written and directed by a man.
The male characters, on the other hand, are categorized by their clinical conditions, be it bipolar disorder, depression or OCD.
I found fault with this gendered depiction of mental illness in which men have conditions outside their control but women are either demanding wives who make their husbands miserable or instead, in a desperate movement towards sexual liberation, choose to embrace their “dirty” side.
All feminism aside, the film features impressive performances by Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro and the lesser-known Jacki Weaver. And although a big part of me was unsatisfied with the tied-with-a-bow ending, my inner 15-year-old hopeless romantic thrives on the happily-ever-after and couldn’t help but leave the theater smiling.
And like Pat says, “The world’s fucking hard enough as it is. Can’t somebody just say ‘Hey let’s be positiv. Let’s have a good ending to the story?’”