As 6:30 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday approaches, I wonder how many Eagles fans will be arranging their remote controls just so, or clutching their carefully folded Eagles handkerchiefs in their left hands.
All to ward off the “bad juju,” to borrow a phrase from Pat Solitano Sr. (Robert De Niro) in Silver Linings Playbook, the movie that so shrewdly captured the peculiar psychology of fandom in general and of Eagles fandom in particular.
“You have an inferiority complex. You get close and then you blow it,” says one antagonistic character, and the movie – based on a book by Oaklyn native and longtime Eagles fan Matthew Quick (no relation to Mike) – knows how essential it is to put those words in the mouth of a Cowboys fan.
His diagnosis seems to suit Solitano’s bipolar son Pat Jr. (Bradley Cooper) who comes out of a mental hospital (and a broken marriage) trying to get his life in order – so close to a breakthrough yet stubbornly determined to sabotage the good deeds and good intentions of those around him.
Symbolizing this is the DeSean Jackson jersey young Pat wears from time to time. Jackson is a great talent but also a player known for spiking the ball on the one-yard line on his way to what should have been a touchdown.
For a movie aimed a national audience, that’s some pretty granular Eagles lore. But it’s that kind of detail that makes Silver Linings Playbook the movie to watch before the Eagles take on the Patriots. There are other movies featuring the Eagles — most famously, Invincible, in which Mark Wahlberg plays Vince Papale; most infamously in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, in which the Eagles lose to the Dolphins; most ignominiously in The Garbage Picking Field Goal Kicking Philadelphia Phenomenon, in which … you know what? The title says it all.
Though I liked Invincible, it tells a classic underdog story mostly through the eyes of a single player. But Silver Livings Playbook encompasses all of Eagles nation. Silver Linings Playbook is full of the granular details that only a diehard Eagles fan would understand. See: Pat Sr. grousing about (former) head coach Andy Reid’s bad clock management. And the crabby snacks (finger food served by Quick’s own mother) offered on game day.
Then there’s the casting of Cooper himself.
Director David O. Russell had initially favored Bostonian Wahlberg for the role. Wahlberg (who recently said he’s OK with the Eagles’ winning the Super Bowl) had made several movies in the city, in addition playing Eagle Papale before, and he had done strong work for Russell in The Fighter.
But Cooper was a Philadelphian, an Eagles fan — we’ll no doubt see him in a super box watching the game — and his pitch to Russell won him the role, and an Oscar nomination.
Jennifer Lawrence won an Oscar for playing Tiffany, a young widow, a bit unbalanced herself, who’s trying to help Pat get his act together.
She has Pat’s condition to deal with, and also something perhaps more formidable – the whole idea of bad juju. Pat Sr. believes his son is lucky for the Eagles, that his presence is required on game day, and that when he spends time instead with Tiffany, the Eagles are likely to lose.
In a pivotal (and funny) scene, Tiffany decides to use the father’s own crazed belief system against him – she points out that when Pat attended the Giants game with the family, the Eagles lost. Yet when Pat spent his Sundays with Tiffany, the Eagles beat the 49ers, the Falcons, and the Seahawks.
“The Birds are better when Pat is with me,” she says. She doesn’t necessarily believe in the superstitions, but she believes in their power and is canny enough to use that power to her advantage — as a force for positive change.
It’s a theme in Silver Linings Playbook, which posits that football can be good juju. By movie’s end, the Solitano game day crew is a diverse bunch — Tiffany, Pat’s hospital pal Danny (Chris Tucker), his therapist Dr. Patel (Anupam Kher), and his best friend, Ronnie (John Ortiz).
In our frayed and factionalized time, it seems like everything (including pro football) is seen as a potential tool to divide people. Silver Linings Playbook reverses field, and gives us football fans as a big, blended family.
Looking around the city this week, can you argue with that?
You’re an Eagles fan. Of course you can.
But that’s another reason to like Silver Linings Playbook – it’s not too sentimental.
This is a movie, after all, about a man — Pat Sr. — who’s been banned from the stadium for life for throwing punches.
And so, on game day, it’s important to remember his advice and wisdom. About football, about so many things in life:
“Don’t drink too much, and don’t hit anybody. You’ll be fine.”