Ladies and gents, we give you the worst film of the year
In Silver Linings Playbook, Pat (Bradley Cooper) — a mentally unstable romantic and Philadelphia Eagles fan (as if those aren’t all the same thing) — gets out of the loony bin a skosh too soon. He went in due to his nervous condition, to-wit: He nearly murdered a man who was buggering his wife, and went to a mental hospital rather than jail. But mom wants his home for the holidays and checks him out. Bad idea. Pat delusionally believes his wife still wants him back, and goes ape-shit all over the depressing ‘burb where his parents (Robert DeNiro and Jacki Weaver, both slumming it shamefully) to prove he’s worth having back. Problem is, every time he hears the song “My Cheri Amour,” he gets violent. (The Stevie Wonder song that should set him off, though, is “Superstition” — his dad is a bookie who blames losses on the TV remotes not being properly aligned.)
Even the thumbnail description of this execrable piece of cinematic detritus sounds banal, and I’m not exaggerating to say my write-up is 10 times better than any 30-second stretch of SLP, which defiantly sets out from the opening scene to be the unchallenged Worst Film of the Year. It wins by a landslide.
There have been many good movies — some comic — made about defective folks who end up finding love and adjusting against the odds. Last year’s Young Adult is an exceptional example, with Charlize Theron as a near-psychotic egotist who returns to her hometown and fucks everything up. Screwed-up-but-tender is possible, though the writer-director here, David O. Russell, seems unaware of the first steps to go about achieving that.
That’s odd on the one hand, because Russell has basically done it once before, with Flirting with Disaster; on the other hand, Russell seems to limit himself to two speeds: “Pretty good” (The Fighter, Flirting) and “outright abomination” (I Heart Huckabees). SLP basically reinvents the bad movie from scratch. It’s a disaster of Romneyan proportions, such an epically miserable failure, so unforgivably inept and lacking in the slightest whisper of entertainment value, that the act of writing this review — of forcing myself to reflect on the movie for any longer than I want to — makes me feel homicidal. If Bruce Banner had seen the first five minutes of this movie, he would have turned into The Hulk in the first reel of The Avengers.
If you think I am berating the vast horribleness of this travesty simply for grins, you are mistaken. Silver Linings Playbook has triggered unheard-of levels of bile to rise in my body; I may need to seek treatment at an urgent care facility before this review is over (or at least get stronger medication that Pat puckishly spits out at the psycho-ward) before I can return to productive society.
I’m not joking. Not even a little.
Russell’s writing is as putrid as how he directs his actors and edits his scenes. The storytelling is choppier than the rear end of a speedboat during a typhoon. There’s no style to the pacing, no elegance. It’s a comedy that feels angry, or at least unaware of how labored its jokes are. (I laughed twice. In 62 minutes.) Pat is meant to be an anti-hero who is torpedoing his own future by refusing to listen to those around him who want the best for him. (It’s essentially the same as the musical Next to Normal, which isn’t funny in the least, nor meant to be.) Instead, he just seems like a crime spree waiting for a TV movie.
SLP wants you to root for Pat, and for the equally broken (and age-inappropriate) girl he’s meant to be with, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who takes more pills than Liza on a bender and sometimes even makes Pat look in control. Personally, I wanted both of them locked far away from automatic weapons and populated areas, preferably after being sterilized. These are the kind of people who invariably sit behind me at movies, or drive near me during rush hour, and they need to be corraled. (Speaking of rush hour, Chris Tucker has a glorified cameo as a fellow inmate of Pat; it’s almost Method acting — Tucker has become as bloated and logy as a manic-depressive on lithium.)
Russell has no sense for what to do with this material; he encourages Cooper to speed through his lines, as if this is just The Hangover III, and the laughs will come fast and furious. Then he edits the scene with a WeedEater, destroying continuity or any internal consistency. It’s all as artless as a fart in a phone booth.
Lawrence is bad, though not as bad as Cooper, in one of those “let me stretch as an actor” turns that craves awards attention. But when it fails, as it does here, it merely makes you feel uncomfortable watching, like seeing a monkey doing math. And nothing makes any sense … at least not before I bolted. This is one of those films that simply cannot get better if you give it time; moviegoing is not like a summer cold. Especially not this one. Silver Linings Playbook is such an artificial and unlikable mess, it feels more like a mugging. You have been warned.
No stars. Opens Wednesday in wide release.
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