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12 December 2012

Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud

Years ago, a band called The Supernaturals had a hit with a song called Smile, whose lyrics suited my pessimistic realistic teenage self perfectly. The Ex, more cynical perhaps even than me, adopted, "sarcasm in my smile," as his MSN Messenger moniker for most of our time at university. The song opens with the line, "Every silver lining has a cloud," and this is somewhat appropriate for the new David O. Russell movie, Silver Linings Playbook, which I finally saw today. But there are more clouds than silver linings in the film and the silver linings we do get are so predictable, you can't help but wonder why you needed to sit in the cinema for two hours to reach that point.

That isn't to say I didn't like Silver Linings Playbook; I just don't think that of all the films that have been released this year and those that will be released in time for next year's Oscars this one would come close to making my shortlist. Despite having been too busy to go to the cinema very often of late, I did think I would see Silver Linings Playbook and so I tried to avoid reading or listening to any reviews of the film. I did see the trailer, though, and I found it somewhat misleading, because it included pretty much all of the film's witty/funny lines. It's not an especially funny film, though, and it's certainly not a banter-tastic rom-com.

Pat (Bradley Cooper) has just been released from a mental institution where he was sent, we learn, for beating the crap out of his wife Nikki's lover after catching them in flagrante delicto in the shower. He tells his mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver) and his father Pat Sr (Robert De Niro), to whose care he is entrusted, that he's much better and doesn't need to take his meds or go to therapy. Instead, he wants to get into shape and to read all of the books on Nikki's teaching syllabus so that he can persuade her he is ready to be together with her again. Pat Sr has some mental health issues of his own and his obsessive-compulsive behaviour and his relationship with football and with gambling often parallels Pat Jr's relationship with Nikki (Pat Sr isn't allowed within 500 yards of the football stadium; Pat Jr can't go within 500 yards of Nikki).

Through friends, Pat Jr meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a young widow and self-defined "former slut." After the death of her husband, she lost her job for "sleeping with everyone" at her office and, like Pat, she is lonely, sad and probably in need of therapy. There is chemistry between the two of them, but Pat insists that he is still married and that he won't rest until he has won Nikki back. The will-they-won't-they bits are, again, highlighted heavily in the trailer, but we don't meet Tiffany until a good 25 minutes into the film and the movie is very much about Pat and his life, of which Tiffany happens to have a part.

Tiffany occasionally sees Nikki, however, and offers to give her a letter from Pat, but in return, she wants him to be her partner at a big dance contest a few weeks' later. Again, the trailer makes you think this is the main point of the movie, but it's just one small part of it, albeit a fairly integral one. And it does all come to a head at the contest when, thanks to parlay made by Pat Sr, the performance of Pat Jr and Tiffany becomes crucial for the financial security of Pat and his family. Oh, and just complicate matters, Nikki shows up too, just in case there wasn't enough pressure on our heroes. But will Pat ever manage to find one of those elusive silver linings discussed during his therapy sessions or is he doomed to destroy all of the relationships he builds? Well, you'll just have to watch the film to find out.

I thought the topic matter of Silver Linings Playbook was interesting and the mental health issues were handled sensitively. I thought Jennifer Lawrence was good--although not exactly Winter's Bone standard. DeNiro and Weaver made a good pair as the troubled father and his long-suffering wife, and Cooper was fine as Pat Jr. Apparently, Mark Wahlberg was originally cast in the lead role, and I can't help but wonder if I would have enjoyed it more with that casting choice; then again, Pat Jr is hardly supposed to be a particularly likable character, although I think by the end he is supposed to grow on you. It's just a shame that Silver Linings Playbook didn't grow on me a little more...

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