It brings charm and comedy to madness and mania

Patrick is a mid-30s ex-school teacher with a myriad of social difficulties, whom we meet in the care of a psychiatric institution. He was sent there by a court order after an incident in which his emotions got the better of him. His refusal to take his medication ensures that his symptoms – which include erratic mood swings, violent outbursts, an attention deficiency and obsessive fixations – are not going anywhere. That same court also served Pat with a restraining order, meaning that he is required to keep outside a 500-foot radius of his ex-wife Nikki. When Pat is released from care, he must endure his overbearing father (De Niro in top form) and the indignity of returning to his parents’ house as he plots to win back Nikki. Opportunity thus manifests itself in the unlikeliest of places: his best friend’s sister-in-law Tiffany, who is afflicted by similar psychiatric ailments, takes pity on him, and in return for his help with a project of her own, promises to pass on a letter to his ex.

 

The script, written by director David O’Russell (Three Kings, The Fighter) and adapted from a Matthew Quick novel, is full of clichés  (dance competition anyone?), but each of them are subverted or throttled in such a way as to render them redundant. For example, our romantic leads are immediately at each other’s throats, bickering in such a way that makes us certain that they’ll soon be at each other’s underwear. However, in an early pleasant surprise, Tiffany unexpectedly offers Pat sex, thus throwing the coming events into some uncertainty. If the script can be criticised, it’s for doggedly following convention – but Russell does such a good job of disguising those narrative conventions and wrong-footing our expectations that he ensures those weaknesses also make for the film’s greatest strengths. Otherwise, the performances are uniformly excellent, as to be expected from such a cast – with particular emphasis on relative newcomer Lawrence (who bagged an Oscar for her role).

 

At the time of the film’s US release, one journalist described the film, in the context of mental illness, as more lightweight than light-hearted. I would be inclined to agree, but would also defend the film by pointing out that it is primarily a comic representation of mental illness and not a documentary. As such, the film pulls off a difficult balancing act whereby it is in fact quite educational for the uninitiated, but without ever slowing down the film’s narrative engine. The audience cares about these characters, while at the same time recognising their tendency for unpredictable, disconcerting and sometimes frightening behaviour. It posits the characters firmly as outsiders, lending them an underdog status which, despite a derivative narrative climax, makes them impossible not to root for.

 

There are few romcoms out there that I can actually stomach. I find them overly concerned with demographics and less so with quality. One exception that comes to mind is Paul Thomas Anderson’s  2002 film Punch Drunk Love, starring Adam Sandler – which is incidentally the only film starring Sandler that I can stomach.

 

So it was with some relief that I discovered Silver Linings Playbook to be of similar quality. It has a central male character with anger issues, and for the most part, is unassuming of my intellect or gender. Rather, it is simply an entertaining two hours that is romantic, funny, moving and yes, feelgood. On its own terms, and those of the genre, Silver Linings is a success – you can allow yourself, with very few pangs of self-betrayal, to feel good about feeling good.

 

Silver Linings Playbook (11)

Dir: David O’Russell; US romcom/drama, 2012, 122 mins; Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker, John Ortiz, Julia Stiles
Premiered April 25
Playing nationwide