By Ethan Sapienza
If Andy Tennant (“Fools Gold,” “Hitch”) had directed “Silver Linings Playbook” starring Matthew McConaughey (circa 2006) and Katherine Heigl, would the film have been received so well? Would it have made so many Top Ten lists? Would it have received eight (eight…? EIGHT?!?!?) Academy Award nominations?
Please, reader, imagine the film with those changes and really try to answer those questions. It seems readily apparent to me that the answer to all three would be no.
I propose this scenario to illustrate that “Silver Linings,” at its core, is a rather silly romcom with a flare for the dramatics. By adding director David O. Russell and actors Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, the foundation for a typically poorly received flick about irrational people falling in love somehow turned into a serious Best Picture contender.
It baffles me too, reader.
One could argue that the performances from the two leads and the directorial style of Russell are what elevated the film to have such a lofty distinction. Truly, though, Cooper and Lawrence’s performances are far from creative or noteworthy, as they relied more on their recent hot streaks than anything else. Both portray neurotic, heartbroken characters, and act in the way one would immediately expect, containing a childlike repertoire of limited mood-sets: severely distressed, elated, calm, or angry. These portrayals are meant to illicit an emotional or comedic reaction, yet instead are flat. I found that I couldn’t care less about the results of their respective story arcs; they were far too plain and boring to put any investment in them.
The film also treats the idea that everyone is slightly crazy, lost, and just trying to get by as both highly original and valid. Sure, everyone has his or her quirks, and it can be difficult to find one’s path in life; yet thinking that everyone is on the brink of collapse and experiences bipolar behavior is ludicrous. Equally ludicrous is believing that it is inventive to have characters who are struggling with fitting in with societal standards.
Continuing with the streak of craziness, Russell’s directing indicates that the “auteur” might be neurotic himself. The camera and style of the film seems to never cease in movement, being remarkably distracting and disorienting. I’m not sure what the director was going for, but it proves to be a gigantic nuisance. It’s possible he was attempting to achieve a similar aesthetic found in Martin Scorsese’s seminal works. However, where Scorsese has an accelerated and biting pace, Russell falls short. This also combines oddly with the story of the film.
The one redeeming quality of “Silver Linings” is its depiction of Philadelphia Eagles fans. Granted, I am a born and bred New York Giants fan, so my dislike for the Eagles runs deep. Yet it has been recognized by numerous publications that many Eagles fans are some of the worst in all of sports. Known for booing Santa Claus and cheering rival players’ injuries, the film shows some of the football fans as being rowdy and rude, even provoking fights with fellow Philadelphians.
In all honesty, as much as I enjoy seeing my sports biases confirmed cinematically, there is no way that a film can have any true merit for simply pandering to my (justified) prejudices. Put bluntly, the plot is far too predictable and utterly lame, regardless of who’s in it and who directed it.
Ethan Sapienza is a staff writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.