Silver Linings Playbook by David O. Russell

I know I’m a few years behind with this one, but Silver Linings Playbook is on Netflix, so I finally watched it. All stars are brilliant in the film, but Jennifer Lawrence was a bad casting choice. She is still too young to bring the necessary complexity to this character. She needed to be world-weary, but soft, broken. With her husky voice and masculine (beautiful!) characteristics, I had a hard time believing her in this role. The topper is that we are supposed to believe that, in her spare time, this woman enjoys somewhat serious, competitive dancing. Dear Jennifer Lawrence provides a one-two punch of beauty and real acting ability, but she is not graceful by any stretch of the imagination. Based on what I’ve read of her in interviews, she embraces a boyish sense of humor and boyish way of moving through the world. I think even she would agree that being cast as a dancer is a bit of a stretch.

First, the beginning: what’s really innovative about this film is the role of bipolar disorder and Bradley Cooper’s portrayal of that mental illness as it evolves throughout the film. As the movie progresses, it becomes clear that other characters, the father, the long-suffering mother, the leading lady, and even the best friend, are all really struggling with their own, very real, mental distress. The main character, Pat, has a troubled relationship with his father, which is increasingly revealed as very controlling and made a significant contribution to the main character’s distress.

***spoiler alert***Ok, here’s where the real spoilers begin because I’m going to talk about the ending. In the end, Pat (Bradley Cooper) ends up falling in love with Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), and I’m not sure what to make of it. On one hand, it is a “happily ever after” ending that does not do justice to the complexity that is established earlier in the movie. It also comes as somewhat of a surprise. While it is clear that Pat is beginning to lust after Tiffany (as does the audience), a more substantive connection between the two is less clear. Still, okay, they fell in love, Pat and Tiffany live happily ever after while mom continues to make snacks for the big game and dad continues to recklessly gamble away the family’s financial security on football. Somehow, these two mentally ill people manage to heal each other and all is well and saved forever the end.

The second reading is much darker, it’s my own, and I highly doubt it was the intended interpretation. It is that Pat is a vulnerable person, still suffering deeply from a bipolar breakdown. Because of long-term manipulation and mental illness from his own father, Pat is used to unhealthy intimate relationships. When Tiffany comes along and lies and manipulates her way into his life, he recognizes it as the dysfunction to which he is accustomed, and he is unhealthy enough to get caught up in the troubled relationship. Tiffany will continue to exploit the relationship to its inevitably volatile end, and Pat will repeat his bipolar breakdown cycle because no evidence of new learning, growth, or healing ever really occurred. If you ask me, it’s a dark, messed-up film ending indeed.

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