"Silver Linings Playbook" is chaotic, endearing, delightful, surprisingly well-written and wickedly funny.
It also is charming, all in a kind of off-center, painful, dysfunctional way. But then this film is all about dysfunction, both familial and personal, a mining of that rich vein of material where love and, well, barely-keeping-it-together mental health intersect.
"Silver Linings Playbook" opens with Pat (Bradley Cooper) being released from a Baltimore psychiatric hospital where he's been ordered by the court to remain for eight months. He's leaving to return home to live with his parents, Pat Sr. (Robert DeNiro) and Delores (Jacki Weaver). Sweet people.
To be sure, Pat's a head case, but then his home is a hothouse of eccentricities, strange quirks, affection, all existing on a continuum from sort of normal to endearingly crazy. Pat Sr. is a bit obsessive-compulsive about the Philadelphia Eagles: the team's juju and won-loss record, about hexes and signs, and keeping his TV remotes aligned. And not to forget that the old man has been banned from all Eagles' home games for enthusiastic fighting in the stands.
Granted, quirky and crazy (clearly nonclinical terms, but you get the point) reside on a pole-to-pole continuum, that familiar geography we all inhabit. Pat Jr. has simply spent some time stuck at one end. But then, haven't we all found ourselves doing something over and over, expecting a different result?
But young Pat is trying mightily to follow a silver linings treatment plan, learned at the hospital, one in which he will look for the positive in all situations (his mantra is Excelsior! Ever upward). No matter that when he finishes "A Farewell to Arms" he is so upset with Ernest Hemingway that he throws the book through his upstairs bedroom window, then wakes his parents to rant about the ending. If you've read the book, his reaction makes sense. It's a great moment, one of many in the film.
Shortly thereafter, Pat is invited to dinner with old friends where he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a fellow traveler on the road to better coping skills, whose husband was killed and who has, like Pat, issues. Initially, they're oil and water (Pat, a master at magical thinking, is determined to reunite with his estranged wife, Vikki, who has taken out a restraining order against him).
But gradually, despite countless speed bumps along the way, many of which are funny and sad and simply wonderful, Pat and his family and Tiffany find a way to make sure that their collective high tide raises all boats.
The film concludes in a hopeful, chaotic, satisfying way. Families can create a geodesic dome wherein the whole is stronger than the sum of its parts. Which is the essence of "Silver Linings Playbook."
Nietzche once wrote, "If you look too long into the abyss, the abyss will gaze into you." That may be the thematic scaffolding for all the great noir films of the last 60 years. It certainly applies to the just released "Broken City."
The film is dark, nihilistic, and much of it feels like a late night shot of a New York boulevard — dimly lighted, gritty, people, like so much flotsam, moving along narrow sidewalks as if pushed by an ill wind.
The story, very briefly, focuses on Billy Taggert (Mark Wahlberg), one of New York's finest, who loses his badge over the questionable shooting of a teenager. Flash forward seven years, and Billy is a private detective following cheating spouses.
He's summoned to the office of Mayor Nicolas Hostetler (Russell Crowe) and offered a job. The mayor believes his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is cheating on him, and he wants pictures. The pay: $50,000. Nice.
And so begins Billy's journey down the Machiavellian rabbit hole where nothing is as it seems. And for all of Billy's street smarts, he is surprisingly unsophisticated regarding the nefarious deals and refined corruption of city politics, all of which possesses a patina of affluent respectability. What is really going on is multi-layered, sometimes confusing, compelling and unrelenting. When Billy demands, "Will someone tell me what's going on!?" the audience is asking the same question.
"Broken City" is a solid B-movie with A-list actors, and a fine example of what a postmodern noir film looks like. For fans of the genre, it won't disappoint.