Silver Linings Playbook

I was thrilled when Jennifer Lawrence won the SAG award for outstanding female actor in a leading role for her performance as Tiffany Maxwell, a young, angry and hilarious widow in Silver Linings Playbook. In a stellar cast that includes Robert De Niro she managed to outshine everyone, with a performance that is brutally honest. If you happened to catch the clip they played during the SAG awards you'll know exactly what I mean. Her anger was palpable and so real she was practically shaking. I was quite impressed.

Silver Linings Playbook is based on the book by Matthew Quick of the same name. Directed by David O. Russell, the film is the story of Pat Solitano, a mentally ill man who has control/anger issues. As the story begins he is in the hospital in Baltimore and his mother, Delores, played by Jacki Weaver, is picking him up. He asks his mom if his roommate Danny (played by the ever adorable Chris Tucker) can get a ride to Philadelphia and they all leave together. They aren't far down the road when the hospital calls to say Danny wasn't exactly allowed to leave so they have to bring him back. Once they drop him back at the hospital and go home Pat is reunited with his father (also called Pat, played by Robert De Niro) who is shocked that Pat the younger is home. He had no idea Delores was going to release Pat from the hospital. This makes their already tense relationship even worse.

Dad is concerned about Pat's ability to rejoin society smoothly but Pat is confident that he has learned how to cope and his new philosophy of finding the silver lining will get him through. Unfortunately he is still obsessed with his ex-wife, who has broken off all communication following a violent event. While he's planning on the best way to get in touch with her he meets Tiffany, who is battling troubles of her own. A recent widow, she is depressed and having troubles coping. She has been having sex with lots of people, saying she had taken every single person at her last job as a lover, an idea I find hilarious, especially when I imagine them all in a conference room glaring at each other. (I did know a woman who dated every guy on the gymnastics team, which was probably more athletic but less impressive.)

Pat asks Tiffany to deliver a letter to his ex, which naturally aggravates her. But then she agrees to do it, provided he does something for her, namely join her in a dance competition. He is completely unprepared for anything like that and finally agrees to an intense rehearsal schedule as well as the actual competition. But his OCD father has plans for him that coincide with the dancing, leading to problems. Pat the elder is now making a living as a bookie while trying to get enough money to open a restaurant and he is terribly superstitious, convinced that the younger Pat is his good luck charm. As they get further into the football season Pat the older's need for Pat the younger to follow certain rituals become stronger and stronger, causing a great deal of tension.

I loved this movie, although I had one problem with it. There's an implication that Tiffany's overt sexuality is mental illness, a whiff of the old nymphomania charge that used to make adventurous women end up locked up in asylums. While the character is not ashamed of her behavior Pat is, calling her names like whore. While that may be coming from his own emotional problems it's depressing and disconcerting to see the same old same old once again. When male characters sleep with a lot of other people it's more often applauded than condemned.

Things that I did like – the relationship between the two Pats. So much tension but also a lot of love and concern. I liked how we could see that the younger Pat got a lot of his more negative traits from his father, who is obsessive and has an anger problem. (Dad has been banned from more than one venue.) I also adored Pat Sr.'s reaction to Tiffany laying out a “logical” response to his football superstition. So well done. Chris Tucker's character was a lot of fun of course and I mostly liked the way mental illness was handled. It wasn't fetishized or treated as something terrifying that will end life as the character knows it.

But most of all I loved Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany. Smart, tough, sure of herself and still open to the world, despite her recent losses. Her character, and Ms. Lawrence's incredible performance, make this film.

Bonus Treat:
This week's bonus treat is from McSweeny's and is a FAQ regarding the snake fight portion of your thesis defense. Written by Luke Burns it is fantastic. Frankly I have had tests that were so awful I would have definitely preferred to face a snake in hand to hand combat.