Is the The Silver Linings Playbook, directed by David O. Russell, a romantic comedy? You might start to think so — clearly the story exists to unite Bradley Cooper’s broken motormouth Pat with Jennifer Lawrence’s angry widow Tiffany. Is the movie a romantic tragedy, about two people whose best hopes are ultimately misplaced in each other, or whose families’ inadequacies and suspicions trash their chances at happiness? It almost seems possible, as both crash over and over on the shoals of mania and heartbreak, that they’ll founder on them forever.
We first meet Pat leaving a mental institution. His mother, unsure but determined, has sprung him with the court’s permission and against his doctors’ judgement. It’s not immediately clear what he’s done, but it’s fairly obvious he’s not over it, as he lashes out against everything he comes back to, including his sports-obsessed father, the employer where he’s no longer welcome, the restraining order that underlines that condition, and A Farewell to Arms, lifted from his estranged wife’s high school syllabus, hurled through an attic window in fury at its downbeat ending. Downbeat endings aren’t for Pat, who preaches a gospel of optimism, forcing himself and others to see silver linings in every setback.
Tiffany, the sister-in-law of his one remaining friend, is his perfect match, a teller of awkward truths with a complementary menu of psychotropic prescriptions. She meets Pat at the tail end of a tantrum of promiscuity, a reaction to the sudden death of her cop husband. When he declines her invitation — he’s holding out hope for a reunion with his wife, TRO be damned — their relationship begins.
The movie, set in the shabby working-middle-class burbs of Philadelphia, feels of a piece with Russell’s last film, The Fighter, set in a similar white ethnic milieu in Boston, and with an equal nervy energy. As Pat’s father, Robert de Niro substitutes for Melissa Leo — as an OCD sports bookie, he’s a softer presence on the screen, but he’s been kicked out of the Eagles’ stadium for fighting, a living and live backstory for Pat’s rage.
De Niro’s nest of symptoms isn’t alone. Pat’s friend bursts with suppressed rage. His parole officer doesn’t think twice about trying to take advantage of Tiffany’s reputation. His brother is a dumb, successful jerk. His psychotherapist pranks him with a trigger stimulus in the clinic lobby. No one in the movie qualifies as normal, which saves it from Benny and Joon territory.
Russell’s gotten less obviously weird since I Heart Huckabees (one of my all-time favorites), but he remains aware that the world hasn’t. The editing is thrillingly shaggy, allowing the scenes to run past pat cuts and into new episodes, giving Pat and Tiffany a chance to reflect on the conflicts and obstacles that have just played out. Russell doesn’t allow mental illness to make them prophets. He just listens closely to what they have to say.
If you must see The Hobbit, and pace event-movie evangelism it really is not a must-see, under no circumstances see it in high frame rate or 3D. The 3D adds nothing remotely interesting, and the frame rate makes it look like a telenovela. Or a little like this:
The Hobbit is more of a children’s tale than the LOTR trilogy (which I loved), and it has a certain kind of children’s-story narrative shape to it. Something happens! Then something else happens! Mostly jeopardy, followed by a quick save from Gandalf. Which wouldn’t be so damning if Peter Jackson hadn’t expanded the single volume into three installments without doing anything about it. There are a couple of moral-of-the-story points that provide emotional structure: Thorin doubts Bilbo’s bravery! But then comes to respect it! But the movie doesn’t make it very clear why Bilbo decides to go on the adventure in the first place — Gandalf teases him a bit, but we don’t see that there’s anything wrong with Bilbo’s life that an adventure would fix.
The exception, of course, is the Gollum sequence. Andy Serkis’s physicality is the best argument for motion-capture technology; it’s a lonely point in favor, but a sublime one. My memory of the book is that once Bilbo has the ring, Gollum doesn’t show up again until the trilogy, so I can’t see much reason to go back for the next two installments.