Let me put my cards on the table: I loved “Silver Linings Playbook.” We’re discussing it on The Nose today. (Irene Papoulis, Sam Hatch and James Hanley in the house.) Jennifer Lawrence — whose comic chops appear to be enormous; who knew? — kept me laughing the whole film, and then DeNiro and Bradley Cooper made me cry.
I am therefore surprised that it’s not a bigger commercial success. And surprised by all the bad press it gets, most of which is well-summed-up here. The most embarrassing of these is Richard Brody in the New Yorker, who seems to have run to the men’s room on two occasions in the film where information is presented that violates his central premise. (Richard, he’s taking his meds. As one of your commenters observes: he’s accepted his illness. That’s the whole point.) I think the two questions may be somehow linked. People who like mindless rom-coms may be off-put by the notion that this is some kind of modern-day “David and Lisa,” not that that reference would click with them. Critics looking for edgier material are ultimately put off by the way this film “devolves” into a very successful rom-com. The movie is not propositional. One is not meant to take away a set of conclusions from it, any more than “Bringing Up Baby” has anything important to say about paleontology or the wisdom of keeping big cats as pets. It’s not a fully realized portrait of mental illness, in the same way that Hugh Grant’s David is not a fully realized or even mildly plausible British Prime Minster (but we love him anyway).
The film is not above criticism. It does feint, in its first 30 minutes, it a darker direction than it truly plans to go. By the end, it has succumbed to some of the hoariest conventions of screwball comedy. (I happen to like some of those conventions, if they’re well played. By the last reel, the supporting — stock — characters who represent different points of view have collapsed into an affably wacky comic pit crew. The black buddy, the subcontinental psychiatrist and the slightly domineering brother are all agreeably mushed into one supportive whole.)
But there is a worthwhile, deeper takeaway from this movie, and it emerges somewhat unintentionally in the post-Newtown landscape. First let us pause and acknowledge that, as regards any mental illness or pervasive developmental disorder Adam Lanza may or may not have had, the media became, for a week or so, more like Joe Scarborough, which is to say stupid and reckless and utterly unencumbered by principle. And let’s also say that this going to make life harder for people whose already-hard lives include some comparable disorder. There’s something to be said for the way this movie directs some warm, hopeful light toward that population. That’s a silver lining.