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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Silver Linings Playbook

By
John P. McCarthy
Source: Catholic News Service


Jacki Weaver and Robert DeNiro star in a scene from the movie "Silver Linings Playbook."
In "Silver Linings Playbook" (Weinstein), filmmaker David O. Russell attempts to fashion a winsome romantic comedy that also addresses mental illness with perceptiveness and sensitivity.

It's not an easy maneuver to pull off. But it works because the source material, a novel by Matthew Quick, is rooted in an actual place populated by relatable characters, the acting ensemble is terrific, and Russell, who writes and directs, doesn't shy away from awkwardness or feel-good sentiment.

By turns uncomfortable, funny and touching, "Silver Linings Playbook" is big-hearted, off-kilter entertainment. The volume of four-letter words is the only major drawback, although one is more inclined to excuse foul language when it's symptomatic of clinically verifiable anxiety.

Neuroses, disorders and syndromes abound in the middle-class Philadelphia neighborhood where the Solitano family lives. Exhibit A is Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), whose mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver) checks him out of a Baltimore psychiatric hospital early in the movie. Ignoring professional advice, she's willing to take legal responsibility for her son. "I don't want him to get used to the routine here," she tells a protesting doctor.

Turns out, Pat caught his wife Nikki (Brea Bee) cheating on him and beat up the interloper: a colleague of Nikki's from the high school where they both taught. That incident, plus other unbalanced behavior only alluded to, resulted in a court-ordered stint in the mental institution and a restraining order barring him from coming within 500 feet of Nikki.

Pat moves into his parents' house and, armed with an empowering motto ("Excelsior!"), pledges to remake himself by getting into better physical shape and reading all the books Nikki assigns to her students. His sole aim is to get back together with her and salvage their marriage.

During Pat's eight-month absence, his father Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) lost his pension and became a bookmaker. A Philadelphia Eagles fanatic, the elder Solitano is fervent about football in general. While profiting from taking people's bets, he superstitiously follows a set of rituals that point to an obsessive-compulsive personality. The fact he's been banned for life from Eagles home games for fighting indicates he too is prone to violent outbursts.

Shortly after coming home, Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a young widow in the neighborhood who reacted to her husband's sudden death by acting out sexually. The two have much in common, most noticeably a lack of verbal inhibition that makes social interaction difficult. In due course, Tiffany volunteers to deliver a letter to Nikki, thereby circumventing the restraining order. In return, she asks Pat to help her train for an upcoming dance competition.

Ornamented with colorful secondary figures, the plot trajectory is familiar, but the character-driven screenplay manages to avoid cliche. Russell gets superbly naturalistic performances from the cast. Cooper, best known for raunchy comedies, proves he's got real acting chops and Lawrence continues to demonstrate she's a major talent. Doing his best work in years, De Niro gives an empathetic performance.

Like Pat and Tiffany, "Silver Linings Playbook" is volatile and moody. Yet beneath the genuine anguish there's an abundance of sincere emotion.

The message about silver linings—about our ability to overcome unfortunate circumstances—feels less like a Hollywood contrivance than the truth. And the notion that the line between normal and crazy isn't as clear as we often assume suggests that being judgmental short-circuits both hope and understanding.

The film contains brief glimpses of a violent assault, fleeting rear and partial female nudity, some profane language, frequent crude and crass terms and sexual innuendo. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

*****
John P. McCarthy is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.





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Junipero Serra: In 1776, when the American Revolution was beginning in the east, another part of the future United States was being born in California. That year a gray-robed Franciscan founded Mission San Juan Capistrano, now famous for its annually returning swallows. San Juan was the seventh of nine missions established under the direction of this indomitable Spaniard. 
<p>Born on Spain’s island of Mallorca, Serra entered the Franciscan Order, taking the name of St. Francis’ childlike companion, Brother Juniper. Until he was 35, he spent most of his time in the classroom—first as a student of theology and then as a professor. He also became famous for his preaching. Suddenly he gave it all up and followed the yearning that had begun years before when he heard about the missionary work of St. Francis Solanus in South America. Junipero’s desire was to convert native peoples in the New World. </p><p>Arriving by ship at Vera Cruz, Mexico, he and a companion walked the 250 miles to Mexico City. On the way Junipero’s left leg became infected by an insect bite and would remain a cross—sometimes life-threatening—for the rest of his life. For 18 years he worked in central Mexico and in the Baja Peninsula. He became president of the missions there. </p><p>Enter politics: the threat of a Russian invasion south from Alaska. Charles III of Spain ordered an expedition to beat Russia to the territory. So the last two <i>conquistadors</i>—one military, one spiritual—began their quest. José de Galvez persuaded Junipero to set out with him for present-day Monterey, California. The first mission founded after the 900-mile journey north was San Diego (1769). That year a shortage of food almost canceled the expedition. Vowing to stay with the local people, Junipero and another friar began a novena in preparation for St. Joseph’s day, March 19, the scheduled day of departure. On that day, the relief ship arrived. </p><p>Other missions followed: Monterey/Carmel (1770); San Antonio and San Gabriel (1771); San Luís Obispo (1772); San Francisco and San Juan Capistrano (1776); Santa Clara (1777); San Buenaventura (1782). Twelve more were founded after Serra’s death. </p><p>Junipero made the long trip to Mexico City to settle great differences with the military commander. He arrived at the point of death. The outcome was substantially what Junipero sought: the famous “Regulation” protecting the Indians and the missions. It was the basis for the first significant legislation in California, a “Bill of Rights” for Native Americans. </p><p>Because the Native Americans were living a nonhuman life from the Spanish point of view, the friars were made their legal guardians. The Native Americans were kept at the mission after Baptism lest they be corrupted in their former haunts—a move that has brought cries of “injustice” from some moderns. </p><p>Junipero’s missionary life was a long battle with cold and hunger, with unsympathetic military commanders and even with danger of death from non-Christian native peoples. Through it all his unquenchable zeal was fed by prayer each night, often from midnight till dawn. He baptized over 6,000 people and confirmed 5,000. His travels would have circled the globe. He brought the Native Americans not only the gift of faith but also a decent standard of living. He won their love, as witnessed especially by their grief at his death. He is buried at Mission San Carlo Borromeo, Carmel, and was beatified in 1988. Pope Francis canonized him in Washington, D.C., on September 23, 2015.</p> American Catholic Blog Hope and faith can outshine the darkness of evil. However dense the darkness may appear, our hope for the triumph of the light is stronger still. Though violence continues to stain us with blood, the shadows of death can be dissipated with one act of light.

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