There is a rich tradition of indie films set in midtown America that have the central message of ‘the suburbs make you crazy’. In the last month I have seen: Revolutionary Road, Garden State, Evolution and The Birds – all drastically different but all rely on a series of musings about the absurdity and claustrophobia of suburban, middle-class America.
The central premise of Silver Linings Playbook is that there are a number of ‘crazy’ characters that tell more truths than the ‘sane’ people that surround them – a typical indie-film love story. Pat (Bradley Cooper) has just been released from Baltimore psychiatric institution back into the neighbourhood with his parents (Jacki Weaver and Robert de Niro). He is trying to rekindle his failed marriage with his wife who cheated on him when he gets introduced to Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) who has recently lost her police officer husband and also never hesitates to speak her mind. The film follows the classic late-September / Halloween / Christmas trajectory in order to provide a happy ending where characters have overcome a number of obstacles to coincide with New Year – but even though the conventions are all firmly set in place the script is much better than the average romantic comedy.
One thing to notice about the film is that the houses and locations are stunning, yet there is an interesting reference to the economic downturn. Pat’s friend Ronnie is making money off of real estate, where Pat and Tiffany are living with their parents. Granted they are both in the middle of personal crises’, yet this could be a tradition in years to come in Hollywood films reflecting the reality of young adults living with their parents instead of in unrealistic loft conversions.
Another moment that sneaks out of the rom-com narrative is when Pat and his brother go to a football game and end up defending some Indian football fans from some racists in the parking lot. The scene immediately before this celebrates everything that is American about a day at an NFL game: Barbecue and beers on the back of a truck before the game. The scene is shot in loving slow motion where people are cheering the American Dream, until the racism arrives and the patriotic scene is brought back down again.
The film managed to secure nominations in all four acting categories at the Academy Awards and I must say they are all deserved. My favourite though is the subtlest – Jacki Weaver as Pat’s mother Dolores. I wont ruin the scene, but the moments near the end when she is watching her son with pride are truly heartwarming and give her performance a richness that leads you right back to the beginning when you first meet her. To be fair though, all four main characters each have excellent dialogue and moments of brilliance.
The only sore point for me was the typical reliance on ‘alternative’ music-for-the-indie-film soundtrack. The bi-polar dance scene was a nice touch but the Johnny Cash montage scene…I just don't know anymore