Movie Review

Silver Linings Playbook

By Kersley Fitzgerald

"What did you think about the movie Silver Linings Playbook?"

"I thought it was an accurate portrayal of a bunch of wounded people trying to solve their problems the best they could using what the world tells them and not turning to God."

There you go. Dev wrote the article in one line. We can all go home.

Silver Linings Playbook has been getting a lot of press since its September 2012 release. Some of it for the actual movie. Some of it for Jennifer Lawrence's Golden Globe win. Some of it for Jennifer Lawrence's monologue on Saturday Night Live. From interviews, I know that Lawrence can be cynical about the movie industry, but the girl called Lenny Kravitz "Mr. Kravitz" during the entire filming of The Hunger Games, so I'm sure she meant no disrespect during her speech which slammed her Oscar co-nominees. It was like SNL's writers didn't actually know her, because, with her natural sincerity the jokes fell flat instead of ironic.

But you're here to read about the movie, not Katniss. And I'm going to talk around the movie first, so you can decide whether you want to see it. The analysis will give away too many spoilers.

Silver Linings Playbook is rated R. There's a shower scene with a little nudity as well as a few ballroom dancing outfits. There's little violence (you know, for Americans). One sex scene, although another scene with talk about sex that's more graphic than the visuals. And plenty of "authentic" language. It's set in Philly. I asked a friend who's from New Jersey if people in Philly really talk like that.

He said, yeah, but you only swear every other word. And the F-bomb is so versatile. It can be a noun, a verb, an adjective... The movie makes use of this particular talent. A lot. This is not Bourne movie language where they stuff 95% of the swearing into the first 15 minutes so you know what a tough movie you're watching. No, the language in this movie has a consistency and staying power that would be admirable in many other characteristics.

So, watch at your own risk. And if you are planning to see it and don't like spoilers, stop reading now.

It stars Bradley Cooper as Pat, who is just leaving a mental institution with a new diagnosis of bipolarism after attacking the man his wife was having an affair with. He returns home to his doting mother and his somewhat abusive father, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro), who is trying to fund a new restaurant by making money as a bookie. At dinner with friends, Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) who recovered from the death of her husband by sleeping with everyone in her office.

Sounds irredeemable, doesn't it? Violence, sex, gambling... But as Dev said, the actions of the characters are driven by their attempt to fix the messes they're in. For me, I was caught by how their choices made such perfect sense to each character in that moment. One particular scene comes to mind: when Tiffany propositions Pat, he refuses her, then goes home and takes the house apart in an effort to find his wedding video. He is convinced that he can save his marriage; that he and his wife are still in love. He even wakes his parents at three in the morning, asking if they've taken the missing video. He's frantic, crazed, and in the course of the struggle, accidentally knocks his mother down. His father responds in the way he is accustomed—he tackles Pat and starts hitting. Pat tries to push his father away, protect himself, and not hurt his father, all the while apologizing to his mother.

But by the magic of the direction, you can see what's really going on. From Pat's point of view, it is perfectly logical to tear apart his parents' house at three in the morning to find his wedding footage. He is being faithful to his wife, whom he loves. He has just refused to have sex with a beautiful woman. He needs to remind himself what he's fighting for, see his wife's face, hear her voice.

Pat Sr.'s reaction also makes sense from his own point of view. His son has been nothing but a disappointment—but he loves him deeply. He's scared—what's the kid going to do next? He nearly killed a guy! Now he's coming home late, waking them up, hitting his mother. Between Pat Sr.'s out-of-control son and his lost job and his tenuous book-making, he snaps. He needs his son. He loves his son, but he needs him to be a certain person, and it's not happening. Pat Sr.'s life is falling apart, and instead of helping, his son is making it worse.

As the movie progresses, we learn more about Tiffany as well. She hadn't been feeling amorous, so her husband went out to buy her lingerie in an attempt to woo her. On the drive back, he was hit by a car and killed. Tiffany internalized it all as: "he died because I didn't feel like having sex." She reacted by having sex with everyone. To her wounded heart, it made sense, even though she knew it wouldn't bring him back.

The resolution of the movie is Hollywood predictable. Everything from Pat's violent tendencies to Tiffany's promiscuity to Pat Sr.'s money problems will be fixed if Pat and Tiffany would just become a couple. In the world's eyes, the best thing we can hope for is love and financial success. The crazy things we do almost always make sense in the moment. If we do the right things, the world says, it'll all work out.

Yeah, the entire movie is just a giant Jesus Juke waiting to happen.

But I don't feel like going there today. Instead, I'll go this way: the movie made me feel compassion for people who are struggling without Jesus. Mental illness, betrayal, death, job loss, the desire for a whole family and a good life. In hard circumstances, almost any action can feel appropriate. And there's no telling what we would do if we didn't have that rock foundation to stand on. I can't say that I'd act any differently. Which makes me both grateful that I can rely on Jesus and convicted to leading others to Him so they can rely on Him too.

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Published 2-1-13