By Natalie Gadbois, Daily Arts Writer
Published February 26, 2013
In my emotional, irrational heart, I wanted “Silver Linings Playbook” to win everything at the Oscars this year.
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Yes, Daniel Day Lewis was towering and impressive as Abraham Lincoln, but Bradley Cooper embodied a good man with bipolar disorder with such range and poignancy.
So Christoph Waltz might have been the only shining grace in the interminable “Django Unchained,” but Robert de Niro (“Being Flynn”) exuded an intense vulnerability we’ve never seen before.
Yes, Quentin Tarantino, you are a fascinating human specimen, but David O. Russell’s script had humor, whimsy, grief and a stunning look at the truths of mental illness.
Ben Affleck, you magnificent man, director and star of Best Picture winner “Argo”: Your movie was incredible and inspiring. However, it was another Oscar tale about amazing people doing historical things and succeeding.
But “Silver Linings” defies definitions and archetypes in a way only real life can, surpassing the tried-and-true formula for successful Oscar winners. It’s been criticized as messy and confusing — damn straight it is. The lines aren’t beautifully clean cut nor the images stark, like in “Argo” or “Zero Dark Thirty”.
Life isn’t either of these films. “Argo,” and most of its Oscar-winning predecessors (excluding “Ordinary People,” the most devastating movie about boring suburban life you’ll ever see), are stories of the fantastical, brilliant, evil or heroic exceptions to everyday human beings. They express humanity either at its finest, (the star-crossed lovers of “Slumdog Millionaire”) or at its basest, like Javier Bardem’s terrifying and fascinating murderer in “No Country for Old Men.”
This theme of choosing films that look at life at its most extraordinary is boring. The joyful chaos of “Silver Linings” refreshes and engages, while still boasting an intellectual script, heavy themes, phenomenal performances across the board, and, you know, J-Law herself. The Academy had a chance to promote a film not only deserving of an Oscar, but capable of altering the way we view fine film. Instead they made the safest bet.
“Argo” was another smart, well-done historical movie about people who accomplished impossible tasks. It’s undeniably a great film, an important film, but it never surprises the audience. My high expectations were reached after watching this film, but nothing more. “Silver Linings,” on the other hand, left me shaken and amazed.
It’s embarrassing to reference that oft-used trope “art imitates life” because I like to think of myself as better than that, but it’s true. Life is funny and sad and weird and confusing and heartbreaking and heartwarming and unexpected. Just like “Silver Linings,” life is a wonderful mess. And I like it that way.
I know friends and family with mental illnesses so to me this film is so much more than a romantic comedy between two quirky people, or a drama about crazed sports enthusiasts. It’s not a humorous look at some crazy people finding love in their own weird way.
It speaks to the unbearable sadness and guilt that family members of the mentally ill can feel. Furthermore, Cooper stuns as a man who can have the compassion to forgive a cheating ex-wife but be limited every day by a disease that causes him to hurt his friends and family and sabotage his own dreams.
The Oscars this year have already been decried as a jumbled, miscalculated and even sexist mistake, made all the more awkward by Seth MacFarlane’s joke referencing his own presumed failure. Jennifer Lawrence’s win for lead actress — I won’t even get into her adorable fall — is sadly the only award “Silver Linings” received, out of eight major nominations.
Maybe people just didn’t get it. Maybe all the Academy voters are too blinded by historical fanfare to recognize such a unique, prescient film.