Sunday, February 3, 2013


This movie has been out for a while so SPOILERS, bitches.

Some movies never have a chance. They start bad and end bad and they're bad all the way through. Happens all the time. SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK isn't one of those movies. The film begins well and is compelling for a long, good chunk of its running time. The characters are well drawn and acted, there's a lot of great observational humor and while some of the story beats are familiar, it's so well executed that it's hard to complain. Then comes a scene (if you've seen the movie, you know the one) where the characters just stand in a circle and explicitly state the bullshit stakes of the bullshit third act. They describe the plot of a BRADY BUNCH episode. And that's what we get. It's almost impossible to overstate how horribly SLP goes off the rails in its final 30 minutes.

Let's back up to the good stuff. Bradley Cooper is Pat and as the movie opens, his mom (Jacki Weaver) is picking him up from a mental health institution in Baltimore. Pat went crazy after finding his wife in the shower with an older man (with their wedding song playing in the background) and was locked up after beating the shit out of the guy. He's gotten himself in shape (every character notes how much weight he's lost but we never see Fat Pat) and is optimistic to reunite with his wife, despite the fact that she has a restraining order against him. Why he doesn't still hold a grudge against her for doing such a horrible thing is never touched on.

He goes back to live with his parents and into his orbit comes Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), sister-in-law of one of his good friends. Tiffany has her own mental health issues since her husband died in a car accident and she became an unstable nymphomaniac unable to cope with the loss. Her sexual shenanigans got her fired and she now focuses her energy on preparing for a dance competition. Since she and her sister are friends with Pat's wife, Pat thinks Tiffany can help get a letter to her in violation of the restraining order. In exchange, she asks him to help her and be her partner for the dance contest.

There's a lot of observational humor in SLP and for the first 2/3 of the film, there's a natural rhythm to the storytelling that's very appealing. Pat struggles to cope with his issues without medication and sometimes has rage freak outs that upset his parents and wake up the rest of the neighborhood in the middle of the night. Matters aren't helped by the fact that his father (Robert De Niro) has his own mental issues. He's an obsessive Eagles fan with superstitious rituals that he thinks help his team win. Plus he's got pretty severe OCD.

Holy shit, guys! Somebody woke De Niro up! The hype was real, this is a fantastic performance. I think De Niro may win the Oscar instead of Tommy Lee Jones, he's that good. Also excellent is Weaver as mom. It's not as a big a role but she makes a meal out of it and her constant worry for the crazy men in her life is touching. Indeed, all the actors are terrific, even Bradley Cooper. He's never done much for me but here he surprised me with how effective he could be even when doing and saying terrible things.

Lawrence is also really good but I think I can smell her desire for an Oscar in this role a bit too much. There are a few moments where it's ACTING! and I half expected "Oscar Reel Moment" to flash across the bottom of the screen. The movie's real clutch player is Chris Tucker. Tucker has done even less acting than De Niro in the past 10 years and he's great here as a former patient at the same mental hospital. Whenever a scene is lagging, Tucker pops up and breathes fresh life into the movie. It's nice to see him again and I hope he can get off his ass to keep making movies.

I enjoyed the fact that were no big stakes for the dance competition. It was just a therapeutic activity for Pat and Tiffany. But then comes that scene, oh God--that scene! Suddenly, there are bullshit stakes attached to how well the two score in the contest. And the movie must go through the bullshit motions of this bullshit third act. My enjoyment levels were declining and declining and then... oh God, what happened then. The big confrontation between Tiffany and Pat. She's mad at Pat for reasons that make zero sense, Pat has to chase her down (I guess we should just be glad he doesn't have to rush to the airport) and then comes his revelation to her. Whatever goodwill I was still harboring was destroyed in this moment. What Pat reveals to Tiffany is utter bullshit. It's an insult to bullshit, actually. Bullshit would've been an improvement. SLP ends up a movie where everyone's complicated emotional baggage and issues can be solved by saying "I love you".

It kind of reminded me of AS GOOD AS IT GETS, another romantic comedy with emotionally unstable, intelligent characters that must go through a bullshit third act. But Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt have more screen time to work through their issues and at the end, it doesn't really feel like all their problems have been solved. They've made some progress but still have a ways to go. SLP, on the other hand, ends with everything tied up with a neat little bow, all that messiness dismissed with a hand wave. When your two leads finally kiss and the camera pulls back to symbolize how romantic the moment is, it shouldn't induce a gag reflex.

It's one thing for a bad movie to have a bad ending. I can deal with that. But when a movie you're really enjoying shoots itself in the foot with the third act, it's positively infuriating. SLP isn't the worst movie of 2012 but it's the most frustrating by a country mile.

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