The only formulaic slop more tired than sports movies are romantic comedies, but by some miracle David O. Russell seamlessly pulls off both at the same time without it feeling tired or formulaic. This is the movie the world has been waiting for. Simply said, Silver Linings Playbook is a winner.
Often when looking at life, the world, family, politics, ourselves... it's easy to feel overwhelmed, and it seems as if it'd be so obvious for the whole thing to implode on itself, so natural for everything to just fall apart. But for some reason people keep going, keep trying. That is what Silver Linings Playbook is about. A human being has the insatiable desire, not only to survive, but to thrive, to find happiness, or some version of it.
Which brings up a third genre that inspires me to groan during coming "attractions": the inspirational triumph-of-the-human-spirit story. Manipulative and over-dramatized, these movies play out like hard candies on grandma's coffee table longing to be full, nutritious meals. After watching the trailer, Silver Linings Playbook might seem like one of those, however it jukes in unexpected directions.
Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Company.
A few months ago I was waiting for a bus South of LA. An older man was sitting on the bench clutching a brown-bag-clad tall can. The way he held onto it was completely captivating. He clung to it as if to let go would undo the universe, as if it was meaningful, as if he were holding onto something else. "Bus just passed." The man spoke gently. "There'll be another one soon."
"Yeah, I take it downtown all the time, comes often." was my reply.
"I used to live downtown, well..." the weathered face paused slightly, "Well, I mean I was homeless downtown. Lived on the streets. Was hittin' the pipe too hard. Hittin' the needle too hard." He examined his empty can. "All that's done now. Got me low rent housing 'round here. Just can't seem to kick the drinking." The man tapped the can against the steel bench. "My son got shot up in Compton. Died. He was 19. Never been the same since then."
I couldn't come up with anything to say. The bus arrived, and the poor, old man just kept sitting there as it drove away. Empathy doesn't really do justice for the feeling in my bones as the bus left, and the old man drifted into nostalgia. But he never left me. The experience of that man who had overcome being homeless, and beat a drug addiction to be sitting at a bus stop, not quite ready to go anywhere is so relatable. He was so close to having his shit together that it broke my fucking heart.
Bradley Cooper stars in Silver Linings Playbook. Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Company.
That is where we find Pat (Bradley Cooper) at the beginning of Silver Linings Playbook. Just on the precipice of being able to function with some sense of consistency. And I have never been more emotionally invested in a character. Just taken out of a court ordered institution under the consent of his mother, Pat is determined to beat his illness and get his wife back (who currently has a restraining order against him). It's a story of running full speed ahead while everything is sure to fall apart. The energy in the theatre was electric leading to the clincher.
If you just keep going... If you just keep trying... It sounds like a cliché because it is. The thing is clichés are clichés for a reason, they work. And they can not be avoided. The important thing is to not let it feel cliché, which is what takes great skill and imagination. This movie is refreshingly free of cynicism in cynical world. Go see it!