The Mad Hatter: Have I gone mad?
Alice: I’m afraid so. You’re entirely bonkers. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.
After seeing Silver Linings Playbook, I left the theatre in a really good mood. One of those moods where, if life had been a musical or I had any rhythm or dexterity, I would have jumped up and clicked my heels together as I skipped down the street. Instead I took to telling anyone who would listen how amazing and uplifting the film is and how they must drop everything they are doing and see it immediately. (Seriously, stop reading this and go see it.) A couple people, intrigued by my insistence, asked me what it was about. A feel-good film about an emotionally damaged man, whose bipolar disorder is only discovered after a violent outburst brought on by his wife’s infidelity lands him a court-ordered stint in a mental health facility, you say? They looked at me like I was the one who might be crazy.
Bradley Cooper plays the protagonist, Pat Solitano, Jr., in David O. Russell’s film adaptation of Matthew Quick’s 2008 novel, and the film begins with his release from the hospital. He has lost his job, he lives with his parents, his neighbors think he has gone off the deep end, and a restraining order requires him to stay 500 feet away from his wife. But he has a plan: stay positive; be stronger; and find the ‘silver lining’ in his situation — doing so, he believes, will surely bring his wife back to him if he works hard enough.
The problem, however, is that the ‘silver lining’ isn’t always what you think it should be. For most of the film, Pat is too close to the situation he’s in, and too stuck in his ways, to see this. In one scene, for example, he has an outburst over Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms — He wakes his parents in the middle of the night with a tirade about the unexpected tragic ending that befalls the characters, raving, “They were happy. You think he ends it there? No. He writes another ending.” — Hemingway’s novel provides a parallel to Solitano’s own story, in which he believes his ‘ending’ will find him back together with his wife. Yet, as John Lennon once sang, “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
Pat soon meets his match in Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence), a brazenly unapologetic young widow, who is equally as broken. Thus, Pat and Tiffany make a deal. Tiffany will help him get a letter to his estranged wife and in return Pat will be her partner in a dance competition. The film culminates in their final dance, two well-matched individuals performing a fun, choreographed mash-up that paints with painstaking clarity the humor, trust, and genuine admiration between the two. Their performance is made even more endearing by contrast to the competition, a line-up that resembles the professionals from Dancing with the Stars. We know they won’t win, but in this moment we also know (and so does Pat) that sometimes what you originally thought was the silver lining may have actually been the cloud.
Pat and Tiffany are portrayed as outsiders, looked at by their families and friends as off-kilter, damaged goods, possibly a few cards short of the deck. And it is true that Pat and Tiffany may be ‘crazy,’ but they aren’t the only ones. Pat’s dad, a phenomenal Fila track-suit-wearing Robert DeNiro, spends football Sundays in obsessive compulsive mania masquerading as old school superstition. As Pat Sr. rearranges the remote controls so that the Philadelphia Eagles will win, Pat’s best friend Ronnie has his own stress and anger issues that find him punching walls in his garage to let off steam. The story manipulates our perception of sanity. After all, Pat and Tiffany may be nuttier than fruit cake, but they admit it. And how does the old adage go about crazy people? If you think you’re crazy, you are probably sane enough?
Cooper is flawless in his portrayal of Pat. With memorable roles in classic comedies such as Wedding Crashers and The Hangover, he doesn’t get the credit for his acting ability that he deserves. With a Best Actor nod in the Oscars (and the Fauxscars!) maybe that will change. Lawrence of The Hunger Games fame is hilarious as Tiffany, a character that comes off as a less stable, yet equally kick ass (albeit R-rated), Katniss. Robert DeNiro is Robert DeNiro, enough said. Yet, as the OCD Solitano patriarch, his performance is both comical and touching. Chris Tucker rounds out this dream cast as the loveable, questionably unhinged, Danny, a fellow patient Pat meets during treatment, whose random drop-ins add an extra helping of comic relief to the already very funny film.
Simultaneously witty, intelligent, poignant, and heartwarming–there is something universal about this story. Like Pat says in the end, “life will break your heart… and I can’t begin to explain that, or the craziness inside myself and everybody else.” Maybe the moral of the story is in acknowledging that, and being better for it. And if, like Pat, you are lucky enough to surround yourself with people whose ‘crazy’ is compatible with your own, then maybe that is the real ‘silver lining.’