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Silver Linings Playbook

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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Francis of Assisi: Francis of Assisi was a poor little man who astounded and inspired the Church by taking the gospel literally—not in a narrow fundamentalist sense, but by actually following all that Jesus said and did, joyfully, without limit and without a sense of self-importance. 
<p>Serious illness brought the young Francis to see the emptiness of his frolicking life as leader of Assisi's youth. Prayer—lengthy and difficult—led him to a self-emptying like that of Christ, climaxed by embracing a leper he met on the road. It symbolized his complete obedience to what he had heard in prayer: "Francis! Everything you have loved and desired in the flesh it is your duty to despise and hate, if you wish to know my will. And when you have begun this, all that now seems sweet and lovely to you will become intolerable and bitter, but all that you used to avoid will turn itself to great sweetness and exceeding joy." </p><p>From the cross in the neglected field-chapel of San Damiano, Christ told him, "Francis, go out and build up my house, for it is nearly falling down." Francis became the totally poor and humble workman. </p><p>He must have suspected a deeper meaning to "build up my house." But he would have been content to be for the rest of his life the poor "nothing" man actually putting brick on brick in abandoned chapels. He gave up all his possessions, piling even his clothes before his earthly father (who was demanding restitution for Francis' "gifts" to the poor) so that he would be totally free to say, "Our Father in heaven." He was, for a time, considered to be a religious fanatic, begging from door to door when he could not get money for his work, evokng sadness or disgust to the hearts of his former friends, ridicule from the unthinking. </p><p>But genuineness will tell. A few people began to realize that this man was actually trying to be Christian. He really believed what Jesus said: "Announce the kingdom! Possess no gold or silver or copper in your purses, no traveling bag, no sandals, no staff" (Luke 9:1-3). </p><p>Francis' first rule for his followers was a collection of texts from the Gospels. He had no idea of founding an order, but once it began he protected it and accepted all the legal structures needed to support it. His devotion and loyalty to the Church were absolute and highly exemplary at a time when various movements of reform tended to break the Church's unity. </p><p>He was torn between a life devoted entirely to prayer and a life of active preaching of the Good News. He decided in favor of the latter, but always returned to solitude when he could. He wanted to be a missionary in Syria or in Africa, but was prevented by shipwreck and illness in both cases. He did try to convert the sultan of Egypt during the Fifth Crusade. </p><p>During the last years of his relatively short life (he died at 44), he was half blind and seriously ill. Two years before his death, he received the stigmata, the real and painful wounds of Christ in his hands, feet and side. </p><p>On his deathbed, he said over and over again the last addition to his Canticle of the Sun, "Be praised, O Lord, for our Sister Death." He sang Psalm 141, and at the end asked his superior to have his clothes removed when the last hour came and for permission to expire lying naked on the earth, in imitation of his Lord.</p> American Catholic Blog The joy of the Gospel is not just any joy. It consists in knowing one is welcomed and loved by God…. And so we are able to open our eyes again, to overcome sadness and mourning to strike up a new song. And this true joy remains even amid trial, even amid suffering, for it is not a superficial joy: it permeates the depths of the person who entrusts himself to the Lord and confides in him.

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