2012. The world was supposed to end...maybe?
A Pakistani girl named Malala stood up for women’s rights in the Middle East. The Giants won the World Series.
Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey. Barack Obama was elected President for the second time. I got engaged to be married.
And my favorite movie of the year was a story about a father, a son, his new lady friend, all their mental health issues, some dancing, and the Philadelphia Eagles…
The Sunday afternoons of the NFL season that moves us through David O. Russell’s “Silver Linings Playbook” are so relatable that I never even once considered second-guessing the films depiction of mental illness, which some critics have.
Those critics clearly don’t know people suffering from the manic highs and lows of bipolar disorder and depression.
The disease runs through all of the characters as they battle around the recovery of Pat Solitano, Jr., a bipolar former high school teacher with violent mood swings and rage, recently released from a court-ordered stint in a psychiatric hospital.
He is played with fearless energy by Bradley Cooper. Driving him is his desire to make things right with his wife, Nikki, who has a restraining order against him after Pat caught her cheating and reacted by savagely beating her new man.
Surrounding and dividing him is his compulsive gambling addict and bookmaker father, Pat (Robert De Niro, at his late-career best), clearly the apple tree Pat, Jr. fell from, and a new acquaintance named Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence, also fearless), a young woman on the back edge of a nervous breakdown that came as a result of her husband’s untimely death.
Their Meet Cute is a discussion of Pat’s choice to wear a DeSean Jackson jersey to a dinner party and the parade of pills doctors prescribed them in the wake of their various collaps-es.
They can’t seem to get rid of each other. He needs Tiffany to get a letter to Nikki.
She needs Pat to help her train for a city dance competition.
They are a match made in Philly, which means the inevitable complication hinges on the well-being of the Eagles on football Sundays and which various friends and neighbors are sitting in which chair, eating Mrs. Solitano’s (Jackie Weaver) crabby snacks and homemades, holding the lucky handkerchief.
So there’s a romantic comedy inside of a family dysfunction dramedy, and it’s a delight all the way through, even at its hardest, heaviest moments. It is elevated and could be called con-trived, but the fun, the joy of this movie is in its openness to the power of great acting and the perfectly chosen needle drop.
Take the scene where Pat first finds himself attracted to Tiffany, after a Halloween night date at a local diner that goes horribly wrong. Pat insults her. She throws a tantrum.
It’s on a level with (and nods to) Nicholson’s chicken salad rager in another dysfunctional family dramedy, 1970’s “Five Easy Pieces”.
But then there’s the aftermath of the date.
Pat goes home on a tear. He must have his wedding video. He has to see Nikki’s face. He has to remember his mission. Led Zeppelin’s “What Is And What Should Never Be,” a bi-polar song in its own right, soft and sad then violently intense in waves, plays not as source but as if inside Pat’s head.
Pat, Sr. enters to try and calm the situation. It escalates with the music as Mom screams and neighborhood lights come on and the local cop beats on the door.
Every single performance in this sequence, from Tiffany’s breakdown to Pat and Pat to the neighborhood cop is at the highest level possible.
And it is one of the most affecting movie scenes of the decade.
And then O. Russell makes similar choices with other songs and moments.
The violent rage induced by Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour.”
The loveliness and passing of fall into winter with Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash’s duet of Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country,” which is used in the most melancholy training montage in movie history.
It bridges the gap that divides Pat and ultimately leads to the film’s final act, which starts with an Eagles pregame tailgate that goes horribly wrong (and scored to The White Stripes’ “Hel-lo Operator,” a bad gambling beat, and a new bet, a parlay...that the right mix of people can make their own destiny.)
“Silver Linings Playbook” is one of the movies I’ve rewatched the most this decade.
It is comforting in a way that few movies are.
It is one of the joys of American cinema in the 2010s.
I love the way it moves and feels. Football and anguish and the descent into winter, of the Sunday it brings out in us, no matter what day of the week.
“The world will mess you up 10 ways to Sunday,” Pat says, “...but Sunday is my favorite day again.”
This is a movie that reminds us, even if you find it too neat and packaged up in the end, to go out on a limb, to forget fear, to embrace what’s right in front of us all along.
We, the anxious and unstable, work this life everyday for the luck we get, the happy end-ing, even if the silver linings in this tough world are the simplest, smallest victories.
You can stream it on Netflix.
My other favorite 2012 releases:
“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”
“The Place Beyond the Pines”
“Beasts of the Southern Wild”
This is the first entry in a year-long series in which I recap the best movies of the 2010s. Until next month...