The Weinstein Co.’s “Silver Linings Playbook” was a hit with Napa Film Festival goers on the second day of screenings. In introducing the film though, TWC’s COO, David C. Glasser, may have tipped off careful listeners about the source of the film’s minor problems.
He spoke of the many years of stops and starts in the development process for Matthew Quick’s critically acclaimed novel. “Development,” in Hollywood terms, is a torturous process by which various execs from creative areas as well as marketing and advertising weigh in on how the film should look and act once it’s allowed out in public.
This tends to take the edges off anything truly “edgy” and dumb down characters and story lines in a perception, often misguided, about what the moviegoing public will embrace.
Now “Silver Linings Playbook” is a bright and smart comedy from David O. Russell, for whom the overwrought emotionalism of “The Fighter” was a change of pace from his usual comedic style in films such as “Three Kings” and “Flirting With Disaster.”
It’s a comedy about things that shouldn’t be funny such as neurotic anxieties, bipolar disorder, sex addiction and other moderate to severe mental dysfunctions.
Bradley Cooper winningly portrays Pat, a man who suffered from undiagnosed bipolar disorder all this life until a violent episode resulted in his incarceration in a psychiatric facility on a plea bargain. At least, he remarks, he now knows what he’s dealing with.
Playing oppose him is one of our best new female stars, Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany, a young widow whose husband’s sudden death has sent her into tailspin of relentless sexual activity with just about anyone who asks.
It’s almost impossible for such a storyline to avoid the utter predictability of an outcome where these two wind up falling in love and “heal” one another. My reservations though are twofold.
The first is the degree to which fairly severe mental afflictions are make to seem cute — and easily cured. What caused Pat’s violent meltdown is catching his wife having sex with a co-worker.
After eight months in that facility, he’s released into the care of his parents, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) and Dolores (Jacki Weaver of the Australian gangster movie “Animal Kingdom”). He goes off his meds immediately and acts and looks like a walking time bomb.
But the movie insists this is comic. The big thing that triggers emotional outbursts is his wedding song, Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour.” That would seem to be a song pretty easily avoided these days but Russell’s screenplay has the song taunt him frequently.
Meanwhile Pat still wants to get back together with his estranged wife, Nikki. That’s his goal in his own regimen of self-improvement, which includes reading through Nikki’s English teaching syllabus to be supportive. (Some of this is quite funny and works very well, by the way.)
But I wish — and here’s the other reservation — the movie had the courage to invest the audience in Pat’s quest, that Russell had the courage to make viewers hesitate to root so unreservedly for a Pat-and-Tiffany hook-up.
Otherwise “Silver Linings Playbook” is a crowed pleaser. It stays decidedly off-center as all its characters possess personality quirks to which they seem marvelously oblivious.
De Niro is very funny as an unemployed and sometimes violent man — no wonder his son has his problems — who runs a small betting operation he hopes this will finance a diner. He also treats the Philadelphia Eagles football team with a religious-like obsession.
Weaver is daffy yet the most normal member of her family. Pat’s best pal (John Ortiz) must fend off the controlling nature of his cool wife (Julia Stiles, cast very much against type).
Chris Tucker, a pal from the clinic, drops by Pat’s household, seemingly untroubled by his own quirks. Indian actor Anupam Kher (“Bend It Like Beckham”) makes much of role as Pat’s therapist, who is also a true-green Eagles fan.
Indeed the film is good enough that you wish it may not have been “developed” so much. What if the real-life problems of such disorders weren’t made so comic and a viewer is torn about Pat’s abrupt decision to change his life goal?
What if, in other words, the stakes were more dramatic and uncertain?
These were all thoughts for discussion at a fabulous post-screening NVFF Gala held at the Robert Mondavi Winery in Oakville. For a report on this, I will turn the blog over to my wife, wine and food writer Mira Honeycutt
To sip the 1995 Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon is a heady experience.
And if the Godfather of Napa Valley, Bob Mondavi, were alive today, he would have held court in the middle of his impressive barrel room, regaling us with vintage stories.
The handful of us who mingling in the barrel room Thursday evening were nostalgic about this larger-than-life personality and his contribution to Napa and California wine.
Back to the 1995 vintage, which was not a single appellation wine but a blend of Cabernet fruit from various appellations such as Oakville, Rutherford, Stags Leap, etc. It showed the best of Napa — what this valley is all about and how elegantly its red wines can age.
The Cab was rich and smooth with a hint of black olive on the finish. At this VIP tasting in the barrel room, we also enjoyed the 2000 Reserve Cabernet. 87% of the grapes came from the famed To-Kalon vineyard and the rest from neighboring Oakville vineyards.
For the festival’s opening Gala, the grounds of the Robert Mondavi Winery transformed into a vibrant night club under a cavernous tent.
Wine glasses in hand, guests danced to a band that rocked with popular songs from the ’70s. Another small band entertained in the intimate jazz lounge.
At the entrance, guests were handed the late vintner’s signature white Fume Blanc. They then strolled a walkway lined with portraits of Hollywood stars by L.A. artist Clifford Bailey.
The food was outstanding, of course. Napa’s tony restaurants and chefs laid out the best of what the regions has to offer.
There were house-cured salmon from Andaz Hotel; slow-cooked and cabernet-braised oxtail from Brix; Hurley’s Maine crab and rice paper rolls; crunchy fish balls with black olives from Silverado Resort; and so much more that I just stopped taking notes and enjoyed the small bites.
But it was the RMW ’95 Cab that lingers in the memory.
— Mira Advani Honeycutt