Goal Posts on the 50-Yard Line
By Jeffrey Kieviet
Over the holidays I managed to catch 3 movies in as many days. Which meant I’d seen as many movies in as many months at the theater. I used to be a bit of a movie buff, but things have slowed down in recent years. I’m not sure if it’s been due to my own time constraints or the lack of quality-flicks I’d want to strain my time for (Resident Evil excluded), but it was nice to catch up with pop culture and have stuff to talk about around the water cooler. And big movies generate big buzz and then awards season comes out and we get to celebrate the wins of our favorites and boo the snubs so wrongly wasted. But what about the smaller movies that we didn’t see plastered all over the place, the ones without bloody gunfights and epic musical numbers (but a delicately clumsy dance sequence).
I kept hearing about this movie, all these great reviews about how awesome it was, one of the best movies of the year, and how it was one of De Niro’s finest in over a decade, but I’d had no idea what it was about. I’d heard something about football and saw pictures of people in jerseys. Maybe it was like an even more optimistic Rudy, all the football plays were made of happy thoughts and 2nd chances. Bradly Cooper was the pretty boy in The Hangover and the pretty boy in The A-Team so maybe we’re in for an over-the-top comedy or an over-the-top action comedy. There’s so much range with a Bradley Cooper vehicle. And I enjoyed both Winter’s Bone & The Hunger Games. Maybe she’d live in the middle of nowhere and skin a squirrel or skin a mutant-squirrel. And then they started getting all these nominations and awards, even Oscar nods.
So might as well jump on the bandwagon and see what all the fuss is about.
The fuss was right. David O. Russell, director of the critically acclaimed The Fighter, the very weird and existential I <3 Huckabees, & my personal favorite, Three Kings, takes us on a crazy, obsessive, seductive dance through a world populated by people like you and me and all our friends: bipolar, manic-depression, OCD. I’ve been there for conversations about which anti-depressant or psychostimulant one has tried and which works better or if all of them are just a load of psycho-babble. Mental health problems are too prevalent in society for there not to be more films about the struggling masses. If you look at the behavior of most characters in romantic comedies, they are obviously off center. The guy from The Seven Year Itch has full-blown delusions for a good chunk of the flick. And Marilyn Monroe’s character is clearly not firing on all cylinders
I totally dug the story and the family dynamic plays out like a year of Thanksgiving dinners crammed into a week. The cast is clearly the highlight, but there’s also a solid script and gripping direction pulling us along. Robert De Niro as Cooper’s father reminds us why we love The Godfather & Raging Bull so much, as an old man he still has power behind his performance, even if the geezer is clutching to desperate superstitions. When he gets worked up and angry, I believe he could beat the snot out of Bradley Cooper, even if he is an action hero. Jacki Weaver plays a heart-wrenching mother who just wants to take care of her family. Even the supporting cast surprises and delights, with Anupam Kher playing a psychiatrist and Shea Whigham as the brother who bring both witty and slapstick humor. Chris Tucker shows up (I can’t remember the last thing he did that wasn’t Rush Hour) as a fellow mental patient and while he still talks fast, his character has heart. I’ll always love a Danny Elfman soundtrack but his influence was subtle and played very well against the dark humor of the film without ever being distracting.
Bradley Coooper and Jennifer Lawrence really amazed me. Sure I’d seen them be good, but they really brought their A-game for this. My favorite scene was the dirty talk in the diner. The movie is rated R but aside from generic swearing and a little inconsequential nudity, the only scene that would be considered indecent or warranting of parental guidance is a great little bit where Cooper is on a not-date with Lawrence, and the conversation turns to her recent bout of promiscuity. Cooper is fully intrigued, and ashamed of himself for being so, but can’t help to pry for more details. Meanwhile, Lawrence is trying to play like it’s no big deal but she likes turning him on & is amused by his sweet innocence. Or as innocent as a man can get while inquiring about inappropriate work-place rendezvous with other female co-workers. Then they yell and scream and cry and shout, then whisper and laugh and talk and flirt.
The set up puts both of them in a position where a serious relationship isn’t optimal, and neither of them is looking for romance with the other. De Niro wants Cooper to be his good luck charm for the Philadelphia Eagles football team, but Lawrence ropes him (only somewhat unwillingly) into participating in a dance competition, simply for the fun of it. As someone who can’t dance and was 4th string defensive end on the high school football team sophomore year, my main connection to the story and the characters was the mental health angel. Nobody is normal, and while these may be extreme cases, I really enjoy the journey the characters go on. Sure, therapy can help, and it’s probably not the best idea to write your own prescription plan, but drugs and analysis are guidelines, an encouragement and compass to help give you strength of body and clarity of of mind. If you live in a world where you’re unhappy or unfulfilled, there isn’t a magic button cure-all. You need to put in the work, communicate with your family, discover your friends, dance and discover hidden talent or passions. They’re both fighting against the world, playing a game of inches, taking it one step at a time. They confront each other and butt heads, but then they realize that they want to be with each other, that right in the middle, at the 50-yard line, is where they both can win.
A little cheesy, I know. And this is a movie so I’m sure there are thousands of real-world couples every day uniting in unbalanced relationships that are toxic in ways dancing and football just can’t help. But this is a movie, a story, a fairy-tale. And as Cooper’s character says in regards to an Ernest Hemingway novel that he’s not the biggest fan of, (and I’m paraphrasing) “The world’s hard enough. Why not give the story a happy ending?”
Silver Linings Playbook
Directed by David O. Russell
The Weinstein Company