If you would have ever analyzed the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, one thing might have stood apart from several others at a cursory first glance: the fact that how imperfect each individual jigsaw piece is. And hence, the peculiarities of that one piece is easily discernible. Also, the fact that, that one piece can never by itself complete its own story. Conventionally, love stories have been built on this over simplistic analogy. Everyone needs that other piece to complete the picture, to smoothen the imperfections to the extent they no longer exist, to the extent we are compelled to just look at the picture, not the imperfections themselves. Silver Linings Playbook attempts to make sense of this queer marriage of imperfections.
Pat (Bradley Cooper) has spent close to eight months in a mental health facility. He has a bipolar disorder, marked by exaggerated aberrant mood swings. He had always been bipolar, but it spiraled out of control when he walked in to his wife having sex with his colleague. He beat his colleague to pulp, almost taking his life. Now eight months later, his mother has come to take him home. His wife has left him; he doesn’t have a job, and is afflicted with a medical condition that hasn’t abated. Although one thing hasn’t changed, with a naivety of a twelve-year-old, he still hopes that his wife will come back to him. Just that their relationship is ‘a little complicated’.
On the other hand, there’s Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), Pat’s friend’s sister-in-law. She looks young enough to have not even been married, impossibly young to be a widow. She’s also grappling with her sex addiction problem. And to compound her conundrums, she’s also abruptly testy, and is under medication.
These two are not who you would call normal by any stretch of imagination. But what’s interesting is, they are not raving violent lunatic either. They are just sufficiently off-equilibrium, which makes them social misfits. Given how the protagonists are, David O. Russell is an apt director to explore these oddities. His last movie, The Fighter, a movie as sensitive as it was gob smacking, had a protagonist, Dicky (Christian Bale) who was a similar social misfit. The sensitivity David O. Russell lends these characters is particularly laudatory. It’s a thin line, between letting them be, and magnifying their oddities so much that they obliterate the character. Russell always trusts the characters, and if you ask any of his characters, they will tell you they are perfectly normal.
Pat is no different. As his friendship with Tiffany somewhat strengthens, he blurts out at a diner that he thinks she’s more abnormal than him. The concept itself is fascinating. Who’s keeping the score? The lead up to this rather grim ostentatious revelation is also interesting: Pat and Tiffany agree to go to a diner together. It’s definitely not a date, and since their friendship has just begun to blossom, the situation at the table is obviously awkward. Conventionally, two people in such a case would try to be as perfect as possible, masking their visible imperfections by all possible means. Here, the opposite happens: both of them open to each other via their imperfections – about their previous screw ups, their medications, which obviously they both hate – when you can bond with someone irrespective, does it really matter how perfect or imperfect you are?
The movie has been categorized as a romantic comedy – that dastardly thing. Solely on their merit, romantic comedies are to Hollywood what masala movies are to Bollywood. Nothing wrong with those genres, but they are often associated with such mind numbing formulaic movies that their repute has come into question a lot of times. What makes Silver Linings a refreshing change is not its ability to not play to the gallery – it’s not difficult to figure out the plot twists, neither is the end that surprising – but in us knowing more than what characters themselves know about their own selves, and still sticking out with them, as we somehow come to accept that their decisions, no matter how devious, are all about finding their own niche — their own silver linings.
David O. Russell plays on that factor a lot – of the characters doing their own thing, in their own often flawed way. He also plays a lot on acceptance: how far are you going to stand by your deviant kins. When Pat returns to his home for the first time from the mental facility, he sees the portrait of his successful brother on the living room’s wall; his own portrait is no longer hanging beside it. It has been taken down, lying neglected on the chest of drawers. He has been disowned symbolically, and then later in the movie, his brother juxtaposes his own success with Pat’s failures, and Pat can do nothing about it. Catching up all the time can get quite tiring. Which is why the movie’s climax nicely rounds up this arc: here the two misfits are waltzing with each other, and are watched in acute nervousness by ‘more normal’ people. But they don’t seem overly concerned with what’s happening on the periphery. They would rather concentrate on their dance. And the fact that they are not homeless anymore. Their imperfections belong somewhere.