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Silver Linings Playbook - Film Review

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by Emu Byron (subscribe)
writer in English, French and Spanish with published credits available in government publications, local and ethnic media. I live in Sydney.
Published February 24th 2013
The quirky title of this movie is a reference to the doodles people draw in order to map-out a game-plan towards a high yield target (desired outcome) as such, it is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the all American values of 'self determination', 'positive action', and 'optimism', dear to the Quixotic heart of American romantic comedy, grid iron football, pragmatic history, and Positive behavioural psychology, all of which loom large in this David O'Russell film and interact legitimately on the basis of the development of the various characters and their embodiments of these National values. But there are some glitches.

What could be 'more American' than being a diehard supporter of 'the Eagles', Philadelphia's own home team, which also happens to be the hometown of Benjamin Franklin, greatest of the 'Founding Fathers' (Pat Solitano Senior, played by Robert De Niro)? Nothing! Certainly not a die-hard supporter of the 'Cowboys', a team which represents Texas, a Secessionist State during the American Civil War (his buddy and alter-ego 'Randy', played by Paul Herman). We will also be reminded (by and by) that the greatest of all American interjections (on this scale of values), the universally acclaimed 'OK', originates with the 'eighth American president' through his membership of a Club called the 'Old Kinderhook Club', so that if you belonged to this Club, you were deemed to be an 'OK' sort of bloke or 'guy'. Funny, how the ghosts of past historical events arise to obscure or enlighten present-day dilemmas!

No need to point out the somewhat slanted significance of this casual historical remark to the movie's central character, Pat Solitano Junior (played by Bradley Cooper), a history teacher recently released from a mental institution (the Karel Psychiatric Facility in Baltimore), who is trying to 'make himself OK' by instituting his own behavioural recovery plan ('playbook') against the mental/emotional trauma that put him there in the first place.

This peppering of Dialogue with historical/sporting/community allusions serve to point the attention of audiences to the fact that in this film, the main function of the dialogue is to question the dominant historical and social values vis a vis of which the characters and behaviours of individuals are gauged as either 'functional' or 'dysfunctional', and the film does not shy away from suggesting that too strict an adherence to these values may in turn result in its own forms of 'madness'.

The fact alone that 'Silver Linings Playbook' is a Dave O'russell movie should serve as a warning that this will be a tricky and complex film. Philip French of The Sunday Observer (UK) has described the director as 'known for his oblique approach, self questioning heroes, and fascination for dysfunctional families'.

In this film however, he is absolutely disconcerting. Not only is he as unconventional as might be expected (think of 'Spanking the Monkey', in which he manages to generate comedy out of such a discomforting subject as incestuous desire) but he is so while accosting a staple genre of American comedy the 'boy meets girl/ boy chases girl' kind of romantic comedy.

Or it could be the other way around, that he is fact being conventional by pretending to be unconventional, for the 'Silver Linings' happy-ending of the 'playbook' must be respected, and as the number of the first noun in the title suggests, this happy ending concerns more than one person. It is in fact a family affair, and beyond that, a community affair.

Let the viewer forgive the apparent confusion of this reviewer and make up his or her own mind. The fact remains that O'Russell manages this comedic/satiric tour de force by taking all the tragicomic elements of the romantic comedy genre and transposing them upon the dark context of mental health issues affecting all contemporary modern societies (not just America's).

In this brilliantly original move, the roller coaster ride of conventional American romantic comedies is expanded to include the notions of romance on medication, the social institutions of mental health, the legal technicalities surrounding the practice of institutionalisation, and a wry look at humanity as either 'diagnosed' or 'undiagnosed' but all potentially ' medicable'. One gets the feeling that the director is depicting a world in which 'the nuts chase the squirrels'. Yet, at the same time, the point is emphatically made: nothing needs to be so complex, and if only the characters would relinquish some of the control that they're so desperately trying to exert (through their various 'playbooks') then everything will fall into place, and they can still win, even as they lose, which is exactly what happens at the end.

If this review has not given the reader any idea as to what actually takes place in the film, good! Go see it for yourself. Yet, while the performance of the actors is absolutely flawless in bringing about this quirky and quixotic vision of life in modern society (including Jackie Weaver whose role as 'Dolores Solitano' is absolutely crucial in the development of the plot), I would like to single out Jennifer Lawrence in the role of 'Tiffany', as Pat Solitano's counterfoil and fellow traveller: she is absolutely outstanding and helps give meaning to the brand "made in America", which still means something today.

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Why? See the film everyone is talking about
When: Out now
Where: In Cinemas
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