“One Flew Into the Cuckoo’s Nest”
Grade: B- (RENT IT)
FOR A GOOD while at least, “Silver Linings Playbook” is a film that is proudly off its meds and taking no prisoners. Its opening has all the panicked pacing of a jailbreak and very nearly resembles one: Pat (Bradley Cooper) is being released from a court-ordered stay at a Baltimore mental health facility and he takes his friend and fellow patient (Chris Tucker) along for the ride. Eight months earlier, Pat savagely beat his wife’s boyfriend after discovering the two in a shower with his wedding song – Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour” – wafting in the steamy air. Hearing even three seconds of the love song will set him off and set him back on his road to recovery. We want to see him well and when Cooper, who has a vulpine face, steadies his closely set blue eyes, he has a scrappy-boy look of desperation that cries out for his mother or at for a prescription refill. In terms of mental illness, “Silver Linings Playbook” endorses a dangerous diagnosis, as simple-minded as the eponymous Beatles song: all you really need is love.
Back in Philadelphia, Pat’s homecoming is met by his worried mother (Jacki Weaver) and Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro), an obsessive fan of the Eagles and sports bookie who has no other way of communicating with his wife and son except through professional football. He keeps his remote controllers in a tidy row and thumbs a lucky handkerchief as he watches every game on the edge of his seat. Apparently, madness runs in the family. There’s also mental illness just around the corner, in the form of Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a policeman’s widow already popular with the local pervs for putting out. Pat and Tiffany appear to be a match made in Halcyon and when the two cross paths at a dinner party hosted by Tiffany’s older sister Veronica (Julia Stiles), it’s a contest to see who can say the most outlandish thing or do the most impulsive thing to shatter any sense of civility and calm. They trade their experiences on different anti-psychotics as if they were vacation towns they’ve visited and walking Tiffany to the end of her driveway, Pat is invited inside for casual sex and slapped across the face in quick succession. Both find that the other is useful in some way: Tiffany can help Pat get to his ex-wife, Nikki, who has placed a restraining order against him, and Pat can help Tiffany win a local dancing competition. To that end, she has converted her parents’ garage into a dance studio and once he agrees to train as her partner, she insists on daily dancing lessons. This allows for the film’s pas de deux to take literal shape and pulling Pat in close, Tiffany brings her nose to his. “You feel that?” she asks of Pat. “That’s emotion.”
It’s sad to think that movie-goers born after 1988 only know Robert De Niro as the paranoid patriarch in “Meet the Parents” and “Silver Linings Playbook” restores the actor to the realm of serious and sensitive cinema. These same youngsters only know Bradley Cooper as the playboy ringleader in “The Hangover” and after such misfires as “Limitless” and “The Words,” he has finally found his mojo as a leading man. Yet “Silver Linings” runs off the rails in its last reel; it wants a happy ending and its lovers to ride off into the sunset when, in reality, people like Pat and Tiffany are missing the gene for Hollywood-like happiness. There is no way that Pat’s therapist Dr. Patel (Anupam Kher) would attend an Eagles game with his face painted, nor come to Pat’s home like he’s one of the family, and the swanky Philadelphia hotel in which the dancing competition takes place is not the sort of place Pat Sr. would visit without criticizing his son for trading in his football jersey for a pair of dancing shoes.
I have to admit I felt a little like Pat who, earlier in the film, flies off the handle when he reaches the unhappy ending of Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. Enraged, he throws the paperback out an upstairs window, breaking it, and wakes his parents in the middle of the night to blast the novel for its depressing but decidedly realistic ending. If only director David O. Russell (“Spanking the Monkey,” “The Fighter”) had taken a page from Hemingway’s playbook and not Hollywood’s.