January 14, 2013

Why ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ Is The Best Movie Of The Year

Silver Linings Playbook
Silver Linings Playbook 

In all the world, there are only two people who frighten me. One is Lena Dunham, and the other is Jennifer Lawrence. I watch everything they do with excitement, awe, and complete and utter terror. Why? Because at 26 and 22, they’re already better at their jobs than I will probably be at anything in my entire life. 26 and 22! When I was 22, I had a blonde afro, weighed 300 pounds, and owed Blockbuster $75 in late fees for Minority Report. Which I never even watched. That was the height of my capability. By 26, I shed the afro, a great deal of weight, and put a solid $20 down payment on my Minority deficit — but if someone had let me run an HBO show, I think I would’ve peed my pants.

Meanwhile Lena Dunham nailed it; writing, creating, and starring in Girls, one of the best shows on TV. Each episode of the first season was made with head-shaking skill and talent. It was amazing, and mortifying, all at once. Then I saw Silver Linings Playbook and realized, “Holy shit, there’s another savant out there, and this one’s only 22!” The movie is by far the year’s best picture, and Jennifer Lawrence, well, she’s the main reason why. Meanwhile, I still haven’t gotten organized enough to see Minority Report. Sigh. Let’s try to focus on the positive, shall we?

At its heart, Silver Linings is a movie about mental illness. I mean, listen to this rundown of disaster: Bradley Cooper’s character is signed out of an asylum, despite clearly being quite crazy. He returns home to his OCD father, an enabling mother, a diminished best friend, and a complete inability to hear certain songs without punching the wall. He’s bipolar, and takes the illness seriously, but at the same time can’t resist an obsession with his estranged wife that put him in the psych ward to begin with. Oh, and the shining light of the film is when he meets Jennifer Lawrence, who is recently widowed, severely depressed, and may or may not have a sex addiction. Those might be the four most depressing sentences I’ve written in my life, and they’re only the first 20 minutes of the movie. But what makes it all work, what turns Silver Linings into the kind of movie you see once and
immediately want to see again, is that despite being about sadness, the movie is never actually sad. Actually, it’s hilarious. It took me three viewings to figure out how they did it, and I think this is the secret: all the characters CARE. They’re passionate, mostly about achieving happiness, and so they try, despite every limitation and stroke of bad luck, to change. They usually fail, but they always try.

So really, it’s not a film about mental illness, Silver Linings Playbook is a movie about people who want to get better. And who of us can not identify with that?

You know that feeling when you’re standing at the bar, desperately wanting to talk to the guy or girl next to you, but are unable to force yourself to do it? Or staring at your gym clothes knowing that you’d ultimately be happier if you worked out, but your mind just won’t let it happen? That’s the world that this movie explores, in a simplistic sense. Obviously being bipolar is a lot more complicated and serious than being lazy, but for those who haven’t been around mental illness, that’s one way to understand it. No matter how badly you want your mind to cooperate, to do something that you know is for the best, sometimes it just won’t allow it. Every scene between Cooper and Lawrence crackles with that conflict. They’re drawn to each other, it’s clear. They have too much in common, are too able to help each other not to fit, but Cooper just can’t let it be. You can see, over and over again, his mind standing in the way. Too obsessed with his pointless past to let a happy future in. The character’s motto is “Excelsior.” Rise above. Improve. Excel. But he can’t ever pull it off. No matter how badly he wants to avoid a fight at a football game, he ends up with a fist in someone’s face. He clearly loves his Dad, but won’t let himself get close to him. And Jennifer Lawrence, who’s so obviously his salvation, he dismisses as long as he possibly can. And when the movie takes off, the scene where it becomes irresistible, is when Jennifer Lawrence says “fuck this, I’m taking over. I’m fixing everything right now.”

Without giving too much away, I’ll say this. There comes a moment two-thirds of the way through the film when all is lost. Cooper’s father, Robert DeNiro, is on the verge of a gambling catastrophe, Cooper seems to finally grasp that his marriage is over, and then Jennifer Lawrence gives them all a way out. She has an argument with DeNiro’s character, and she owns it. An actor almost 50 years older than her, with two Oscars and a slew more nominations, who’s also — you know — Robert Fucking DeNiro, and I swear to God she acts him under the table. It’s amazing. She pulls the family (and the movie) together in two minutes, and sets us up for an outstanding third act. It’s like she’s speaking to all the craziness in the room, everyone’s collective insanity, and saying “No. We are all going to do better.” And miraculously, somehow, they all do. It’s great writing, of course. But without out a dynamo like Lawrence you’d never buy it. I’m glad they got her, because it leads to a finale so good I can stop smiling just thinking about it. Remember the dance number from Little Miss Sunshine? It’s like that, but better. See. I’m sitting here still smiling!

As for the other Best Picture contenders, there’s something for everyone. The acting in Lincoln is incredible, but, to me, the story felt 20 minutes too long. Many people smarter than me insist that Zero Dark Thirty is the film of the year. But it struck me as a newsweek article that someone rolled camera on for three hours. It’s a great story, but has no emotion. Argo is great fun, but seems a little light for a Best Picture. And Django Unchained is alright, but a more honest title would be Inglorious Basterds, But This Time with Slaves! The rest of the list didn’t really move me. But Silver Linings Playbook and Jennifer Lawrence is some must-see filmmaking. I promise. It probably won’t win, but really, it should.

So, Lena Dunham, I guess it’s your turn. What have you got in season #2? TC mark