With Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker. Written and directed by David O. Russell. Rated R for language and some sexual content/nudity. 122 minutes.
Every so often some horrendous film appears that, inexplicably, gets good reviews in some quarters. This season’s “critic’s darling” is an absolutely appalling excuse for a romantic comedy called THE SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK. Run, don’t walk, as far as you can from this toxic mess.
Pat (Bradley Cooper) has just been sprung from a mental institution after several months. He went out-of-control when he found out that his wife was cheating on him and he was subsequently institutionalized as part of a plea bargain. Now he’s home with his parents (Robert De Niro continuing his downward spiral into irrelevancy, Jacki Weaver) trying to put his life back together. Well, not quite, as he still believes he can straighten things out with the ex-wife.
Meanwhile, he gets involved with a young woman named Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) who has her own issues as she gets over the death of her husband. Yes, this is a romance between two people with mental problems and we’re supposed to find that endearing because, after all, you know how much fun schizophrenia can be. There’s absolutely no reason to be rooting for this couple to succeed except that’s what writer/director David O. Russell wants us to do. So when Tiffany promises to help Pat get back with the ex-wife if he’ll partner with her in a dance contest, we’re to take this as a positive thing.
In fact it’s not just the two leads who have issues. Pat Sr. (De Niro) is an obsessive Philadelphia Eagles fan who has all sorts of rituals and superstitions he expects Pat Jr. to follow if the team is to win. Russell seems to think this amusing. Viewers may wonder why Pat Sr. isn’t being locked up as a danger to himself and to others.
There are many movies that treat mental illness seriously and others that treat it metaphorically. The ones that cross over into the offensive are those that take the attitude, “Crazy people – they’re fun to watch, huh?” Pat and Tiffany are broken people who need help and who, with that help, can lead happy and fulfilling lives. Unfortunately, the movie treats this as a joke, with the added notion that the so-called “normal” people are no better.
By film’s end we’re supposed to be happy for the couple dancing together and to think that Pat’s family is amusingly eccentric. Instead one feels as if one has spent two hours in which the inmates have taken over the asylum. Rather than making us sympathetic the movie leaves us sorry we’ve encountered any of these pathetic and self-absorbed poor souls in the first place.
In spite of some good buzz out of the film festival circuit and rave reviews, “The Silver Linings Playbook” seems to be having trouble attracting viewers. There’s a reason for that. This is a terrible film and one of the most overrated movies of the year. With a truly awkward script and no chemistry between the leads – plus Robert De Niro continuing his campaign to make us forget we ever thought he was one of the greatest actors of his generation – this Thanksgiving arrival is a turkey.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide will be released in January 2013. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.