By Olivia Lewis, The Miami Student
Given that there are over 64 million Netflix subscribers, and Oxford no longer has a working movie theatre, we’ll be bringing you weekly movie reviews solely about films available to stream on Netflix. Happy Netflix-ing.
In a quirky and surprisingly progressive flick, “Silver Linings Playbook” (2012) presents a tale in which two mentally battered souls must learn to coexist in a world where their issues threaten to swallow them whole. What’s worse is that, as they struggle, their lives are stripped in the limelight for everyone, nosy neighbors included, to see.
Unlike other rom-coms, which all too often feature conflicts that are laughably contrite, this film is one where miserable, horrendous circumstances are absorbed through the lens of an unexpected and often stigmatized perspective — mental disorders.
The film stars Bradley Cooper as a manic-depressive, bipolar man named Pat, who, at the opening of the film, is just ending his spell in a mental hospital. The internal strife that engulfs the brooding protagonist is self-evident even before his first line is delivered.
His eyes shift from the yellowing, floral wallpaper to the faces of other patients with a sense of edginess. Cherry red pills are covertly spat out of his mouth when the nurses aren’t looking and the detached, carefully rehearsed manner in which he speaks to staff suggests that Pat is firmly planted in a land of denial.
But, Pat’s crafted facade of sanity doesn’t last for long and it isn’t until he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) that he begins to face the pain of a cheating wife without losing his cool. Both Pat and Tiffany share similar manic tendencies and are outsiders to their families, which inspires not only a determination for change, but also a palpable chemistry.
But, while the two share similar struggles, they couldn’t be more at odds.
Tiffany is abrasive and unapologetic, sprinting after Pat during his morning runs even after he tries to outpace her. Pat is the complete opposite, wanting nothing more than to read classics like, “Lord of the Flies” and act as lucky “juju” at Eagles games for his obsessive-compulsive father, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro).
The interactions between Pat and Tiffany sprout a social dynamic that is edgy, cantankerous and just plain onery. She’s a little bit Xanax and he’s a little bit Klonopin, and for most of the movie’s runtime, their interactions with each other are absurdly barb-tongued, love-hate exchanges between a would-be couple.
All of this makes “Silver Linings Playbook” sound a lot more melodramatic than it really is, but director David O. Russell is able to skillfully diffuse moments of tension with ample doses of comedy, all without being tempted to use mental illness as the punch line.
For instance, when Pat invites Tiffany to eat with him at a greasy Philadelphia diner, he hastily orders a bowl of Raisin Bran cereal. Tiffany, even after ordering nothing but a cup of tea, finds this kooky and ironically berates this choice, and he hops to explain that he’s trying to crush any thoughts that this is a date when both of them know it is.
As offbeat and unique as the film is, the structure of the plot does jar the viewer as somewhat predictable, but it’s a minor liability overall. All of the fundamental traits of the standard romantic comedy are there — the public screaming matches and sexual tension so obvious that it’s a miracle the two characters don’t recognize it’s there until the very end.
Despite all of the embarrassing public displays and misunderstandings, the tale of two “crazies” that literally dance around the notion of falling in love is innovative in that it’s delightfully human and portrays its mentally ill characters as being such.
In an era when the concept of love between characters is dominated by a nauseating gripe fest of romantic clichés, “Silver Linings Playbook” is, at last, a film of realistic situations, dynamic characters and the everyday experiences that evolve from them.
“Silver Linings Playbook” is currently available to stream on Netflix.
(Rating: 4 ½ / 5 stars)