Saturday, January 26, 2013

"You gotta pay attention to the signs": 10 questions about Silver Linings Playbook

1) When Tiffany (the excellent Jennifer Lawrence) cries out that she's "just the crazy slut with a dead husband," laughs dementedly, and then swipes all of the dishes off the diner table, is she making a reference to Jack Nicholson's famous restaurant scene in Five Easy Pieces (1970)?

2) When Pat's father (Robert De Niro) weeps in front of his son in remorse for "not spending enough time" with him when he was growing up, should the viewer be thinking that De Niro should feel remorse for appearing in New Year's Eve, Little Fockers, Meet The Fockers, and The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle?

3) Similarly, did director David O. Russell have Chris Tucker as Pat's crazy friend Danny reappear randomly in the film just because he knows we are happy to see Chris Tucker in a movie at all?

4) Given the dance contest at the end, couldn't someone have found some occasion for Pat to say "Nobody puts baby in a corner"?

5) I don't come from a sports-related family, so I don't get all of the movie's talk about characters having "juju" in relation to the next Eagles football game. Pat Sr. thinks of his son as a totem of luck for the Eagles. Isn't that all simply associative magic?

6) When confronted with his older brother Jake's (Shea Whigham) snotty sense of superiority, Pat (Bradley Cooper) says "I've got nothing but love for you brother." Later, in a climactic scene, director David O. Russell positions a picture of Jesus behind Pat. Does Russell mean for the viewer to make a connection between Pat and Jesus, and isn't that precisely the kind of association that manic people make?

7) In one scene, Pat throws a copy of Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms out of the window. At another time, Tiffany throws a copy of William Golding's Lord of the Flies out of her back door. Does Silver Linings Playbook have something against literature?

8) Isn't a bit convenient how Russell keeps using the same meet-cute device of having Pat bump into Tiffany while running?

9) Given the complex political ambiguities of David O. Russell's excellent Three Kings (1999), wherein an American soldier gets tortured by a Kuwaiti who obliges him to drink motor oil, why couldn't David O. Russell have made Zero Dark Thirty?

10) Given Pat's frequent talk of resisting negativity, his tendency to say lines like “Most people lose the ability to see silver linings even though they are always there above us almost every day," how does Russell manage to not make a schmaltzy sentimental mess of a movie? How does Silver Linings Playbook manage to succeed in spite of its glib treatment of mental illness and its cheesy romantic comedy conventions?

13 comments:

Jon said...

How does Silver Linings manage to work? Because of the actors. It's an actors movie and they make it shine. Russell really just collected the right cast. I can't really give him much more credit than that. Please tell me you're joking about having Russell direct ZDT. He can't direct his way out of a paper bag these days.

Craig said...

I agree the actors make it work. But I also think it's because Russell truly believes in this stuff. He makes Comedies Of Rage in which his anger is at war with his finer virtues. For an edgy filmmaker, nearly all of his movies feature happy endings - including "Three Kings," and it's the weakest element in that film by far. Bigelow directs the shit out of ZDT, and amazingly, makes an unhappy (or at least ambiguous) ending out of a big victory.

Answers to your other questions: Yes, sports fans can be superstitious crackpots. And it's revealed later that Tiffany keeps running into Pat because she asked Pat's mother about his jogging routes.

Chuck said...

Agree with Craig on almost every point. We learn late in the film that Bradley Cooper's mom has been arranging for Tiffany to "spontaneously" meet him when he goes jogging.

And, I agree also about ZDT. Amazing that Bigelow could take the biggest "success" in the war on terror and give it a downbeat feel....

Jon said...

Craig....sometimes I feel Russell's films work in spite of himself sometimes, although I hated The Fighter which he walked all over.

Yes it was clear Pat's mom talked with Tiffany about when and where he was running.

When both of you are talking about the ending of ZDT....is that a complaint or a praise that it's a downbeat ending? We all know that was the POINT. Just checking because I couldn't figure it out from your tone.

Chuck said...

For me, it's praise. I think it works really well.

Craig said...

Praise, totally.

FilmDr said...

Thanks for all the comments, Jon, Craig, and Chuck. I've been on the road all day, so I'll respond more thoroughly tomorrow.

I have nothing against Bigelow as an action director, but I have major problems with ZDT (as I tried to explore through links in recent posts). In Three Kings, Russell conveyed the Gulf War with much more ideological dissonance than ZDT ever does.

I agree that Silver Linings mostly works due to the acting, but Russell deserves some of the credit too.

Craig said...

I sensed your feelings about ZDT based on all the linkage. To be sure, it's a problematic film, although I would argue the problems are manifested in Boal's script, not Bigelow's direction. I don't think the two are necessarily in lockstep as some want to suggest (including perhaps themselves). I think it's a terrific movie anyway, but I struggle with it.

Other than an extremely general milieu ("Middle East"), I don't see much in common between ZDT and THREE KINGS - the latter being, among other things, a satirical comedy, which needless to say ZDT isn't. I like Russell's movie quite a bit too. It's wildly original, but I do think he pulls his punches at the end.

Jon said...

Yes and Three Kings is really not about the same thing. ZDT is a manhunt procedural....Three Kings a hybrid film of which parts are comedy and other things etc. When people have problems with ZDT, they usually object to something about it conceptually, which is fine, but then go ahead and say so. I just haven't heard a really good argument against the film regarding ideology. True it has some potential problematic elements regarding the "getting" of information, but that's not really the filmmaker's fault.

Haha but this post was about SLP. I don't think I would want to see a ZDT directed by Russell.

Craig said...

Trying not to imagine a wildly inappropriate ZDT featuring Jennifer Lawrence's Tiffany. "I slept with all my coworkers." "In Pakistan?" "And all the Black Sites." "What about the Navy SEALS?" "Them too." "All of them?" "All of them."

FilmDr said...

In Three Kings, Russell confronts the viewer with Saddam Hussein crushing the Kurdish uprising that the Americans encouraged and then abandoned. We also see Mark Wahlberg tortured by having motor oil poured in his mouth, an apt metaphor for the costly effects of American dependency on foreign oil. So, ideologically, Three Kings is complex and problematic in a way that ZDT isn't. In ZDT, the American torturer simply returns to being a Washington DC bureaucrat when he tires of his job, and we never learn anything about, say, Pakistani reactions to CIA drone strikes. In comparison to Three Kings, the ideology of Zero Dark Thirty all tends to go one way, a way that Americans find more palatable (torture as vengeful entertainment), notwithstanding Boal's and Bigelow's recent media blitzkrieg.

As you say, Jon, we are supposed to be discussing Silver Linings Playbook.

Jon said...

Yeah but see Maya's character holds up a mirror to us as an audience. She is the micro to our country's macro ideas for the last 10 years....the singleminded goal to kill Osama. The film doesn't need to present what happens to the characters as the questions are really posed at us.....look at what WE did....and then when it's over "now what?". I find this parallel between Maya, Our country's leaders, our nation to be fantastic stuff. As for things in the story you're wanting....that's a different movie. This is about one person, and their existential quest.

sophomorecritic said...

A lot of the script was based directly out of the book. I read the book and many of the lines are exactly the same as the movie.

8. That's not a plot hole. Tiffany stalks Pat.