Thursday, 24 January 2013
It’s all wrong, but it’s (supposed to be) all right….
Silver Linings Playbook: directed by and written by David O. Russell
I’m finding it increasingly difficult to manifest my reaction towards the films I’ve seen in the last few months into words (it’s why I’m sitting on two dozen reviews). Silver Linings Playbook is an especially difficult case both because of the film itself and because of the public consciousness surrounding the film. And in an Oscar season (I can’t ignore the elephant in the room) hurtling towards a potentially toxic close, diplomacy – or, at least precision – in my words is essential. So…what better to encapsulate my feelings than a scene that best explain my issues?
As Silver Linings Playbook moves into its final third the majority of the cast gathers in protagonist’s Pat house after a football game. Some perspective: Pat is a man with rage issues and a bipolar disorder for which he reluctantly receiving treatment and back living with his parents after beating up a man his wife was cheating on him with. Eight months after a stint in institute care he is still beholden to her, even though there is restraining order out on him. His goodly mother, having sprung him from psychiatric care, is trying to make the living at home situation work, a tenuous dance with the bipolar Pat and his superstitious, gambling father who is terribly attached to this football team and the bets he makes on them. The scene in question comes after a loss at a football game (and a simultaneous bet) and to salvage the issues his father is dealing with a parlay is made where Pat and a dance competition he’s preparing for with fellow mentally unstable Tiffany becomes collateral in a misguided bet. It’s a very key moment in the film because it moves two potentially divergent acts into convergence as we move into the coda. And, it’s telling when as an audience member what I feel watching this moment is not anticipation at seeing the result but incredulous disbelief. How could these formerly caring parents thrust that level of responsibility on Pat? Why is Pat Sr being encouraged to continue his debilitating gambling habit? Why doesn’t anyone seem worried at the potential fall-out of pressuring this stringently bipolar man? Why is Tiffany there? And, why should I feel invested in this movement when Russell seems to be adding a “solution” to the film for plot movement and not for truth to his narrative?
I’m not wont to throw around the word contrived when referring to plot-points, simply because the very act of any artwork is essentially contrived. But, as I watched things play out it was not only that I did not believe the actions the characters were making but they seemed to be in contention with the film they were in and the time we’d previously spent with them. 2012 cinema has depended significantly on characters doing things I’d raise my eyebrows at and the key to making the "implausible" work is in realising that within the frame of a two-hour film character traits but not necessarily be immediately telegraphed to the audience but must seem compatible throughout the narrative. Allow me to make for one of the most random reference points, but in its tone Silver Linings Playbook seems to be a cinematic brother to its fellow Best Picture nominee Beasts of the Southern Wild. Both Zeitlin and Russell adopt a penchant for using the issues of their characters to justify certain oddities in their film. The unpredictability of Pat’s condition allows Russell to carve a film that’s equally unpredictable to the point of being inconsistent not just in narrative, but tonally; and the juxtaposition of the different forms ends up feeling more false than profound. Is it impossible to mix a lithe romantic formula with a heavier mental health issue? Perhaps, perhaps not. I don’t know. But if there is I feel that this is not the way to do so.
....my favourite performance of the film....
....my issues with the rest...after the jump...
With the script at the centre, the rest of the film seems to be trying to maintain itself against it and it's immediately worrisome that even visually it’s something a mixed bag. I suspect that Russell means for the frenetic camerawork to come off as a view into Pat’s own brain and in theory the gamble should make the sense – the coalescing of various discordant elements of Pat’s life being manifested in the zany camerawork represents the sameness in the story elements itself but the effect wears thin soon, especially as direct interest in that arc dissipates before the film’s end. The circling camera around Pat’s head starts off seeming imaginative but soon wafts into repetitious. The direction is so violently erratic (like the erratic ways of Pat it’s easy to forgive Russell for this) and the camera is so stridently unhelpful with its inconsistency that the weight of the effect is left to the actors and even as I am dubious of considering the ensemble work as entirely successful it is easily the finest aspect of the film. It’s curious that with a conflicting script and with technical aspects that do not help Silver Linings Playbook still manages to put forth an effective lead performance in the form of Bradley Cooper’s Pat. The entire cast is game, but the profundity of Cooper’s performance makes the film even more frustrating because the promise of this adult man working through his adult issues while addled with an unfortunate disease thrill more than the film I’m presented with.
I really liked Pat, though.
Disclaimer: This has been another entry in the Andrew, why can't you stop writing set of reviews