Imagine a mash-up of the following movies: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, My Cousin Vinny, Flashdance, Rocky and Footnote - impossible you say? Then you haven’t seen Silver Lining Playbook with Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, two young stars who are streaking across the Hollywood firmament as often as astronomically possible, this time next to Robert de Niro, screwing up his face in a performance as predictable as we’ve seen a dozen times before The plot concerns a handsome young bi-polar man being sprung from the booby hatch by his protective mom who brings him back to his dysfunctional family members suffering from OCD, Narcissism and Advanced Sit Com Disorder Separated from his wife by a restraining order, the young man meets a hot young widow who suffers from grief, depression, promiscuity and compulsive running. Naturally, these two self-destructive personalities are crazy cute and far more sensitive and insightful than the rest of us boring normals. By various machinations, they come to culminate a loving and constructive relationship through jogging, competitive dancing, letter writing, histrionic behavior that is sometimes violent and unsurprising manipulations of various enablers.
Early on, we see Bradley in the loony bin spitting out his meds and befriending minority underdogs just like Jack Nicholson did in Cuckoo’s Nest. Later on, Jennifer wins a pivotal upper hand by spouting a long list of football games - their dates and scores - just like Marisa Tomei did for auto-mechanics on the witness stand in Cousin Vinny. This Jennifer, like Flashdance’s Jennifer Beal, is also practicing for a dance competition in which she will score (with Brad as partner), despite being outclassed by trained semi-professionals. Both characters will run throughout the movie towards a triumphant personal best, a la Rocky 1 - 4. And a particular turn of phrase will reverberate in Brad’s short term memory to reveal the true identity of a letter writer as in the recent Israeli film Footnote In a classic case of audiences conditioned by television to crave the familiar, there was much enthusiasm for this re-tread of conventional tropes when it was screened at film festivals, and it has received glowing reviews from establishment critics The plight of people with mental problems severe enough to disturb their employment, families, marriages, neighbors and the law swings from scenes that are emotionally searing to scenes that imbue these characters with miraculous powers of insight and self-restraint The notion that two volatile and disturbed individuals will be helpful to each other is another treacly Hollywood staple going back to David and Lisa.
Above all, this movie goes for the homogenized laughter of tv comedy A father, prone to violence, who has squandered the family money; a son whose massive maladjustment is quickly solved by swallowing his meds and striving for Excelsior; a mother surrounded by male dysfunction - these situations can all be resolved by the movie’s end as these characters recognize that they all love each other. And who among us hasn’t learned by now that in the American cinematic lexicon, good looking people who are mentally ill are just lovably eccentric; everybody knows that in the faux complications of Hollywood, love and looking ‘mahvelous” will conquer all.
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