I’m not OK, you’re not OK…but everything’s going to be OK. That’s my best summary of the moral of Silver Linings Playbook, and boy did I have fun hearing it. Here, in not necessarily ranking order, are five things I enjoyed about this movie, and why I am loving it as an Oscar contender:
As I have bemoaned in commentary past, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has a tendency toward elitism when it comes to rewarding films. Specifically, the more depressing, inaccessible, and nonlinear the piece, the better its chances for recognition. Silver Linings, on the other hand, follows the conventional and emotionally gratifying structure known as Archplot (pronounced ark-plot): There is a protagonist (or two), an object of desire, and a journey to acquire it with positive and negative turns, but ultimately offering a positive resolution.
Silver Linings is also an affirming exploration of human behavior and beliefs. In a nutshell: We are all messed up – some in socially acceptable ways labeled “quirks” or “superstitions,” some more broken with “disorders” – and it is in community that we find our way through. This is a refreshingly optimistic movie to find on the list, and I came away from it with a smile.
4. Rom-Com Redemption
The trend of romantic comedies, especially in the last ten years or so, has left me completely cold. This is a shame, because I used to enjoy them immensely: When Harry Met Sally, Sliding Doors, Pretty in Pink… I watched them all often enough that at this very moment I can quote the dialog in full on command. Today’s romantic comedies, however, are so formulaic and the characters so vacuous that I cannot even begin to engage with what passes for a story.
Silver Linings Playbook has redeemed the concept. It’s technically a romantic comedy, but with a brain! In fact, the themes and characters and turns are all so rich and affecting, it took me a couple hours even to realize that’s what it is. The average rom-com spends its whole eighty minutes or so earnestly convincing us why everyone deserves love and we’re all incomplete until we secure it. Silver Linings instead reminds us that none of us deserve it, no one guarantees it, and most of us can’t handle it once it’s in our grasp; as a result, the only reasonable conclusion we can reach is gratitude for where we have it.
It is only natural that seeing Philadelphia on film should invoke an emotional response from me since I used to live there. I’ve driven past that high school a dozen times, even turned around in its parking lot, and it was inevitable that the visuals would bring me warm nostalgia. Yet Philadelphia is more than setting for this story; it’s a symbol of freedom – freedom to be and love who and where we are.
Another related symbol is Benjamin Franklin, whose name comes up at least half a dozen times. Franklin entered his adulthood with no resources and an offensive temperament, yet history remembers him as a wise man, fiercely individual, and a great leader and diplomat. His thirteen virtues for personal and social character are still popular as self-improvement guides today, yet he admittedly struggled to follow them and bore visible consequences for his failings. In a story like Silver Linings, where mental health and social palatability are under the microscope, the parallels are clear.
2. Welcome back, Chris Tucker!
We missed you and your wicked comedic timing. Congratulations on keeping it balanced between controlled hilarity and endearing eccentricity. More, please!
1. The Contenders
There is much to love about this movie, and I can see why it earned so many Oscar nominations (again, not something I can often say about the Oscars!).
Bradley Cooper is brilliantly broken and somehow still swoon-worthy, though I don’t think the role can get him past the juggernaut that is Daniel Day-Lewis this year.
Jennifer Lawrence is phenomenal. I thought the age difference between her and Cooper would skeeze me out, but she plays it so mature and desperate beyond her years, I had no trouble believing in them. Her likability and talent are off the charts, but I’ll be surprised if she garners more votes than Naomi Watts and Jessica Chastain.
Robert De Niro is a legend for a reason. He made me cry in this role, and he is the only nominee that I would be okay with beating Tommy Lee Jones – but it’s a very narrow concession there.
I was underwhelmed by Jacki Weaver; she is solid as the supportive but conflicted mother, but I don’t see this performance as Oscar material.
As for best director, snubbed sensations Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow would have been my top picks. Of the nominees who made the list, however, David O. Russell is thus far my favorite, and if anyone can beat Spielberg, I hope it is he.