Saturday, February 23, 2013

Silver Linings Playbook

Photo: movie poster, from its Wikipedia page


[Note: The word "Crazies" here is used to denote the categorical, but not universal, behavior of the characters described, and the behavior of their real-life counterparts.  Never doubt that these behaviors cause these victims to suffer--especially when the self-realization and guilt hit.  These people are not crazy; they are ill.  They suffer, and they are victims--often of their own, often uncontrolled, behaviors.]


Can two Crazies fall in love?  And if they do, is it really love, or are they just crazy?  Do Crazies know what love is, or is what they think love is just more of the obsessive behavior that embodies their craziness?

And does it matter?  Luckily, no, not at all.  Not in this film.

Believe me, I know Crazies (not going to go there), and I assure you that they are very much like the characters played by Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro--and yet nothing like them at all.  Will they scream bloody murder at each other and slap each other in public?  Yes.  Will the girl scream that he's harassing her, in public?  Yes.  Will she then turn on the crowd and the cop who respond to her yelling?  Yes.  Will she then lie to save the guy who she's just lied about to begin with--all of this still in public?  Yes.  Because that's what Crazies do.

But will the cop--who happens to be assigned to the Bradley Cooper character--walk away from this like he does in the movie?  No.  No, he won't.  And now the Cooper character, in real life, would have violated his probation, or whatever, and that's the end.

And there are a million more examples of this throughout the movie, examples of how Cooper and Lawrence represent real-life Crazies, yet not, at the same time.  The brilliance of this movie--especially to those like me who have been there, and who have, finally, walked away from them, and who have survived the hurricane caused by the damaging winds of their illnesses and personalities--is that you don't care about the discrepancies.  Maybe most audience members will wonder how someone can stay around people who are as much of a live wire as these two are--and possibly that's a great question, even without having to deal with someone like the guy's father, who's a Crazy himself--but the reality is that you can, for reasons we won't go into.

Granted, Cooper's and Lawrence's characters have things going for them that most bipolar obsessives with anger-management issues and lots of self-hatred and self-defeating behaviors don't have going for them--namely, an avoidance of drugs and alcohol; an avoidance of really nasty characters who don't have an avoidance of drugs and alcohol; and a large-enough support group, which in this case consists of a bipolar, obsessive and angry father, a counselor who doesn't advise his clients not to go to professional sports games where there will most likely be lots of alcohol and fighting (and who shows up there himself), a rather straight-laced brother, and some friends who don't run away from them, although they do things like wake up their parents at 3 a.m., throw books out of windows at 3 a.m., walk out of social dinners in the middle of the dinner, and spout whatever's on their minds, at a million miles an hour, without a filtering system of any kind (Cooper's character).  Or, they do many of the above things, and sleep with the entire office and half the town on top of it (Lawrence's character).  These support groups don't leave because they, somehow, don't suffer from the antics of these characters.  In real life, they would leave because such characters, ultimately, and after possibly many years, leave them no other choice.  Everyone gets injured, but you wish them well.

But that's not the reality of the movie here, and by the end of it, despite all this, you're rooting for them despite yourself, because they are sweet, and endearing, and they mean well, which isn't exactly reality, either, but whatever.  You want it to be the reality, and so it is, at least for two hours.  And that's the genius of this film: That despite the (many) conventions, and despite the (many) breaks from reality, the writing and, especially, the acting--from Cooper, Lawrence and De Niro--are so outstanding that they draw you in, and you root for them, and when the two Crazies fall in love at the end (because Cooper's character walks away from his film-long obsession, which such a real-life person wouldn't do, or at least not without the emotional devastation that would accompany it), you buy it, and you forget that these people are suffering from an illness, because you like them so much that you don't want them to suffer from the illness anymore, and so they don't.  And they live life happily ever after, in each other's arms and in each other's laps.  Smiling, laughing, and drinking beer, which real-life bipolar victims and obsessives simply would not do, not if they ever wanted to recover, to manage their illness, and to live something close to a real life.

Happily, real life is not what this is, and you'll love it as I did, so go see it.  (And don't think too much of the title.)

P.S.--Normally I'd blanch at a movie that makes the thirty-seven year-old (Cooper's age at filming) main character fall in love with the twenty-one year-old (Lawrence's age at filming) love interest, and vice-versa.  But these characters are supposed to be ageless; you're not supposed to consider their ages just like you're not supposed to consider that real bipolar victims' lives don't (and won't) work out this way.  It's a fantasy movie in which such people could live like this, and suddenly reverse illness and behave like this, and fantasy characters are ageless.  Jennifer Lawrence's performance, surely one of the year's best, transcends her real age anyway, and she more than holds her own with De Niro, never mind Cooper.  If I hadn't just mentioned it, you might not have considered the ages until movie's end, anyway.  I didn't.

P.P.S.--This from the movie's Wikipedia page:

Robbie Collin of The Daily Telegraph . . . describes the lead character as a "rambling headcase", his mental illness passed off as a lovable quirk and complains that Tiffany's reasons for being interested in him are largely unexplored. [Jennifer Lawrence] does manage to create a complex character from thin material, but he criticizes Russell [David O. Russell, the director] for ogling her.

(Me again.) All true, but I disagree with Collin about one thing: none of it matters.  That's how good the film's suspension of disbelief is.  So go see it.  (But while watching, you can't help but notice how often the film's mise-en-scene is Lawrence's butt, or chest, mostly during the dance rehearsing scenes.  That did weird me out a tiny bit.)    

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