01 March 2013

Essay: Why 'Silver Linings Playbook' isn't a good movie

I think this movie has received an extra dose of undue applause for a multitude of reasons. Maybe it was the fact that there weren’t a whole lot of movies out there that combined serious-drama with a smidge of comedy, maybe there weren’t a lot of movies for the Academy (and all other review committees) to review this year that allowed for a more fair assessment. But I personally see nothing in Jennifer Lawrence’s acting that would put her in a “Best Actress in a Lead Role” category—but then I look who she was up against. All Naomi Watts did for 114 minutes is cry, wear bandages, and breathe heavy. The Impossible was what I call a jerk movie—and I don’t like being jerked. I don’t like a movie editor placing sad music and some sort of touching moment of life and death and basically telling me how to feel. I don’t like being jerked. It was a B- movie at best, and had absolutely no business being recognized in any way—and if anyone was going to be recognized for their jerky “achievement” in the film, Tom Holland, aka Lucas, should have been nominated.
            Then there’s Emmanuelle Riva in another crappy film (I didn’t see Amour, but the reviews, plus personal accounts of moviegoers was enough for me). I have an issue with a film that has nothing noteworthy except for the fact that it’s foreign and therefore adds an air of diversity or variation to the mix being nominated. And of course Quvenzhané Wallis was nominated. A film about Hurricane Katrina…those films about real catastrophic events (see also: The Impossible) always get some attention. But let’s be honest here, she’s a cute and spunky little girl with a big personality. And she did do a slightly impressive job portraying a little kid—it just is unfortunate that the movie she happened to be a part of was honestly a terrible film. A film like that gets recognized not for it’s talents or accomplishments in acting, but for the fact that they got people to pay money to see their film with absolutely no marketing and no familiar actors. Not for talent. Not for “achievement” in the cinema. For simple, “wow factor” behind-the-scenes bullshit. It doesn’t make it a good film just because it’s a low budget film that made it to the theatre. No.
            Jessica Chastain did her job. She was hired to play the bad ass, sexy red head that was smart and lead to the execution of our nation’s biggest (only?) accomplishment in recent times. Argue with me on this, disagree with me all you want. But you know what made Jennifer Lawrence beat Jessica Chastain? It wasn’t acting. It was popularity, it was The Hunger Games, it was the fact that J. Law goes on the Red Carpet and talks about how hungry she is.
            J. Law (and the fact that we have a nickname for her is going to drive the next statement home even more) is the most overrated celebrity at the moment. I don’t hate her—don’t get me wrong. But I am bothered by the attention surrounding her. As previously mentioned, she goes on the Red Carpet and says she likes pizza and the .gif community explodes with a million .gifs of it, and another million internet community members (myself included, at one point in the not-so-distant past) explode with excitement—Oh my GOD, I like pizza too, she’s just like me! She’s one of us!
            So David O. Russell hit the jackpot casting a cultural icon in his film, giving her a sassy role that people would respond well to. And of course, you fill in the rest of the cast with other A-listers like De Niro (to appeal to the older generation) and Bradley Cooper and Jacki Weaver (another actress nominated for crying the entire duration of her film) and you’ve got a gold mine already. Those actors, coupled with…wait for it…a current national hot topic (mental illness!), and that is how this movie received the undue, unjust, but definitely not unwarranted popularity.
            The movie made me anxious. I saw it twice, and the second time didn’t make it any better. I get it, that’s the effect O. Russell was hoping for—the unstable camera angles were just a visual metaphor for the unstable Pat (Cooper) and Pat Sr. (De Niro) and Tiffany (J. Law). Someone was always on the verge of snapping, a very unsettling aspect. That’s fine, I get it, that’s what mental illness, a bipolar and depressed lifestyle is really like. But at the same time…we were all victims of excessive jerking.
            And then there’s the title: Silver Linings Playbook. But Cooper continuously says excelsior throughout the entire movie like mantra. Why not name it excelsior, cut out the extremely misleading scene that they couldn’t stop showing in previews where Cooper is all, “This is what I believe to be true: You have to do everything you can and if you stay positive you have a shot at a silver lining." Okay, that’s fine and dandy. That’s stupendous. Don’t pull us in two different verbal thematic ways—don’t say “there’s the silver lining” and “EXCELSIOR” over and over. Choose one, and keep it consistent, people! I realize that this is in large part because of Matthew Quick’s novel this movie was based on. There are always the major issues that come with adapting a book for film, but really, you couldn’t choose just one mantra for Pat? Excelsior is the theme of the movie, the theme of Pat’s life, and I wish that had been purely driven home—it’s a good message (it means “ever up” in Latin, and it’s an exceptionally optimistic image and idea for us moviegoers to leave the theatre with). But then we get home and we think about the whole silver-lining idea (because it’s, um, the title of the movie), and excelsior gets put on the backburner.
            But for my final point, I want to address the most disappointing part of the movie. About halfway through awards season, once it had started to gain some popularity in theatres, I noticed they started marketing it as a part of the national conversation on mental illness. This is fine, sure, it gives us a glimpse into the hardships everyone faces when someone is mentally unstable. But let’s talk about the end of this film. Pat and Tiffany win their part of the parlayed bet—the bet between Pat Sr. and that shady dude that the Eagles would win by a certain amount of points but also that Pat and Tiffany would get at least a five on their dance routine. The Bet comes and goes and it’s funny and culminates into this dramatic climax. And then they are all in the living room at home and Pat and Tiffany are happy and seemingly off their meds (or on them? It’s never addressed after the first half hour of the movie) and we’re supposed to believe that he’s never going to be bi-polar again because he’s found love with a crazy girl? How does this add anything realistic to the national conversation on mental illness? How are we supposed to feel about mental illness when we are given such an unrealistic Hollywood ending? And that reason, my friends, is why I don’t like Silver Linings Playbook and think it has received an unbelievable amount of undue applause.

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