Every dark cloud has a Silver Lining, but lightning kills hundreds of people each year who are trying to find it. —Despair.com
When Chris Tucker is playing the only character who doesn’t seem to be sowing or cultivating seeds of destruction, then there might be a problem with the film. Such is the case with Silver Linings Playbook which has a full cast of characters being unintentionally horrible to each other. Half of them are suffering from overt neurological problems resulting in mercurial behaviors (hence the pun in my title), the other half just don’t think about future consequences.
What the audience is supposed to see is Pat Jr. is a troubled young man who is institutionalized when his marriage falls apart. He intends to go back to his old ways, but is lead to a healthier way of being by Tiffany involving acceptance of human frailties and whatnot, with the film ending with all of the redeemably flawed characters finding happy fulfillment in each other.
That’s not what I saw.
The core problem of what I saw was that Tiffany decides to pursue Pat Jr., knowing that he suffers delusions while under stress, by lying to him for a couple of months while bending him to her will. I’d like to say that I don’t know what she sees in him — he’s presented as an almost middle-aged man-child aspiring for the past, not just as bipolar but also effectively autistic in the-way-formerly-known-as-Asperger’s kind of way: his claim to be unable to control what he says in conventional circumstances is not a particular symptom or side-effect of bipolarity (as far as my anecdotal sample-set ever went). But what it looks like to me is that she sees in him a life that she can have complete, not just sexual, power over. And having blown (et cetera) through her entire office, she’s looking for somebody with even lower self-worth than her so that she can dominate, cultivate, craft, and express her will to power — hence she favors Pat Jr.’s romantic sounding disinterest in her over her former co-worker’s directed and invited interest in her. Did you catch that low-self worth was the real reason he was in a garbage bag for months on end? Tiffany’s superiority is her ability to dig though that proverbial trash and pull out something to recycle — that being Pat Jr., whose name is recycled despite him being the younger son which would be very strange if it weren’t intentional. The bizarre irony in Tiffany’s behavior is her disavowal of motherhood claiming that she couldn’t see taking responsibility for another life because she’s barely able to take care of her own. And when she feels like she’s losing power over Pat Jr. she freaks out — falls back into the grip of the inferior capabilities of her psyche — twice over and has to be ballasted out by Pat Jr.’s “successful” transcendence like every good little Manic Pixie Dream Girl must. The MPDG is a noxious enough trope without couching it on the claim that “if she’s willing to lie to you for a couple of months just to hold your attention, she’s a keeper!” but that’s exactly where the Silver Linings Playbook goes.
The rest of Pat Jr.’s family is also a piece of work. His brother seems to have a similar smear of autism in him as we discover less than a minute after being introduced to him, and their mother doesn’t know how to relate to anybody in the family, but it’s Pat Sr. that is the real spectacle. He’s allegedly OCD. Okay. He’s also an unrepentant pugilist. Um… okay? And he’s also a workaholic gambling addict that doesn’t believe in statistics, which is where I draw the line. His need for gambling as a pursuit of profit is hand-waved away as a side effect of being unemployed and having lost his pension, but a lot of gambling is losing it all over again: the gambling becomes an compensatory expression of power over his fiscal losses. The response to somebody else losing his financial security is for him to take charge of losing his fiscal security from here on out. Which isn’t good for taxpayers, but is outright abusive to his wife and dependents: instead of being threatened by external monsters, now they’re being threatened by the internal monster that they’re trying so very hard to love, cherish, and respect. And the monster certainly shows up after the Giants game and only gets talked down when MPDG Tiffany shows up and facilitates its fantasy rationales in interesting new ways — or, put another way, Tiffany supports the abuse of the Solitano family in order to protect her ability to cultivate power over their little (almost middle-aged) boy. Great.
To be fair, she’s not alone in this: “friend” Randy happily eggs Pat Sr. on while knowing that he may be ruining him and elder-son Jake-the-lawyer explains that the only reason Pat Sr. needs a restaurant (at his post-retirement age) is to cover for — not replace, or even under-pin — the gambling activities. The notion that Delores could be left a destitute and neurotic mess apparently occurs to none of them. I’m not sure that they regarded her as a person so much as a fussy kitchen appliance. Admittedly that’s also all that she’s apparently aspired to be, but still…
On a sidebar is Ronnie and Veronica’s marriage. Julia Stiles successfully phones in her short performance — she’s still typecast against 10 Things I Hate About You, but she can totally get away with it — as a domineering bitch queen who blithely doesn’t notice that she’s playing a major part in crushing the life out of her her all-too-eager-to-please husband. The short-sightedness of their position — her demands and his acquiescing to them — is strangely portrayed by having installed iPod jacks all over the house when Apple just changed what the iPod jacks are (from 30-pin to Lightning). They, of course, conclude that they’re working on preserving and improving their relationship, et cetera, happy ending. I have my doubts: Ronnie is ill-positioned to have the breathing room he needs to assert himself into growth and development as a man especially since he’s already a father while Veronica’s domineering is likely to be projected in terms of the baby’s “needs.” They can buy their relationship some time until a mid-life crisis blow-out but the prognosis is not particularly favorable overall.
Speaking of 10 Things I Hate About You, let me go on a brief tangent and mention the pattern problem of Ronnie and Veronica because it’s not uncommon. I can talk Campbell and Jung and heroic journeys towards individuation which simply aren’t happening anymore — but if you don’t “Know Thyself!” then more blah blah blah isn’t going to help that. So let me suggest something else: know what your partner loves about you early in the relationship so you can cultivate that instead of inadvertently sacrificing it in a bid to further their happiness in some other way. If your partner loves you for reasons that you don’t love yourself (inclusive of where you came from rather than where you’re going as the meds discussion between Tiffany and Pat Jr. goes), then it’s not a good match. If your partner only loves you for what you do for them (this would be Tiffany being pleased that Pat Jr. is an expression of her power) then it’s not a good match.
On that count, we never do figure out what got Nikki and Pat Jr. together despite it being clear at the time of Nikki’s cheating on the substitute history teacher with the actual history teacher while listening to their wedding song that whatever it was isn’t there for her any more and Pat Jr. has been replaced — fine, whatever… but only up to the point where Nikki was cheating on him to do it, and how did she get a multi-point restraining order and sell the house (in under 8 months in a down market) without getting a divorce? Despite seeing all of Nikki, we don’t actually get a chance to see what’s driving these decisions or any indication that she’ll be living up to the consequences of these decisions, and thus no ability to respect her as a person.
Similarly ignorant of possible consequence, Dr. Cliff tests a psychosis trigger on a historically violent patient he’s not actually met before while the patient is in the lobby with other patients and a receptionist. That looks like reckless endangerment to me bordering on criminally batshit insanity. Do not trust that doctor.
And finally, Officer Keogh, who — judging by his appearance at the dance scene — may well be married, can’t pass up a chance to hit on the lonely/easy widow of a recently (less than 8 months?) deceased co-worker despite having just found that she’s a mentally unbalanced instigator. His thought process in that pivot would have gone something to the effect of: “Your bad joke carried to far almost re-wrecked this guy’s life and caused me more work? We have got to get you drunk off your ass some time.” Because that’s what people do, I guess. Though, to be fair, that’s exactly the response that every guy is supposed to have around a Manic Pixie Dream Girl so I shouldn’t hold it against him for behaving in-type in the same way one shouldn’t be offended when a rude little dog dry-humps their leg. But then the type-mixing leaves us to resolve the dilemma that our armed executors of state authority — the police — are really just rude little dogs under their uniforms and I’m even less comfortable with that broader claim… so instead I’m going to ignore the magical MPDG pheromones and merely assert that Officer Keogh was a stupid asshole.
As I noted at the beginning, only Chris Tucker’s character Danny consistently acts to avoid causing harm to himself and other people. Every time he gets sent back to the hospital, he does so under mild protest but without a fight, and with consideration for the environment he’s being extracted from because he knows he wants to return to it as soon as possible. He can quickly become annoying, but he never becomes actively offensive — probably because he’s got the least amount of screen time of any of the major characters.
The sorry demographic skew of this film presented a phantasmagoria where people clearly shouldn’t trust themselves or anybody else with their future, but do anyway and it all turns out okay so long as you bite off the ending with a “happily ever after” instead of hanging around to see how long ever after will happily last. Overall, the film made me feel very strange to be happily and gainfully employed, pleasantly of sound mind, and thankfully divorced. I’m not sure what sorts of life experiences the critics have had to base their claims that “the movie does make you feel quite good about humanity” on, but they have certainly not been mine.