Monday, December 24, 2012

sometimes a movie formula is just a formula

If Tarantino ever made a romantic comedy, it might look a lot like Silver Linings Playbook.

I saw the film this weekend and couldn't escape the idea that, despite its truly admirable qualities, it still counts as a by-the-book RomCom. The thought I had was that this was an attempt to take the cookie cutter script of a generic RomCom and try to make the most film critic friendly version of that genre as possible. Yes it has strong acting. Yes it has strong dialogue. Yes it has emotionally challenging plot complexity. But it never goes beyond purely formulaic.

The most disappointing (and frankly, troubling) aspect was its vanilla whitewash of bipolar disorder. While both main characters are supposed to suffer some form of mental illness treated by medication, neither ever displays any behaviors much more troubling than anything typical RomCom characters display. I concede that this film is courageous enough to expose those typical behaviors as troubling, but it does nothing more than that. I am reminded of this brilliant take down of Zero Dark Thirty as little more than Erin Brockovich for Fascists. The point is that including an ethically difficult topic in your movie does not alone make your movie ethically courageous when all you do is shackle it in the bondage of tired old Hollywood templates.

Anyone who has had a mentally ill family member will likely see little of the behaviors they dealt with in this film (yes, I have a family member diagnosed with bipolar, and this movie seemed completely sanitized and "family-friendly" to me).

Despite that, I still enjoyed the film. It is very well done. It is a true joy to watch DeNiro and Jackie Weaver play off each other as the long married and still deeply loving couple (kudos to her dialogue coach as well; you'd never guess her native dialect). All of the secondary characters are given ample opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the plot and nuance of the story.

It's a good film. But it is a flawed film.

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