Likely to be nominated for multiple Oscars on Thursday, Silver Linings Playbook offers an affectionate, true portrait of Philadelphia and the suburbs. It's arguably the best film ever made about our region.
Silver Linings captures that affecting mix of grit and polish with tremendous warmth, the working-class roots and exceptional pride that are a hallmark of many neighborhoods where homes, no matter how cramped or nouveau grand, are tended like mansions.
That specific sense of community extends throughout parts of the city and traverses both sides of the Delaware. Author Matthew Quick, an Oaklyn native and former Haddonfield English teacher, set his novel in Jersey. His hero is Irish, not Italian, and the object of football affection is former Eagle Hank Baskett, not DeSean Jackson. Director and screenwriter David O. Russell rewrote the script 20 times, yet Quick thinks the movie remains true to his voice and story, and the universality of certain regional truths shines through.
"Silver Linings is a Philly story," he told me, "a love song to Philly."
The movie celebrates the curious music of local patois. Russell was invested in distinct phrasing that "made me lean forward, I found it enchanting," he has said. The director loved using repetition and colloquials, even original ones such as "crabby snacks and homemades" game snacks to create a distinct and intimate community.
Bradley Cooper's character struggles with bipolar disorder, joining a curiously disproportionate number of Philadelphia-based movies featuring lead characters who deal with acute emotional, mental, and physical health issues. Rocky is the challenged loner who's taken too many punches to the head. Philadelphia explores the ravages and injustice of AIDS. The Sixth Sense examines a boy with a troubling gift and a man out of touch with life. Even the frothy Philadelphia Story features a couple that splits too quickly due to anger-management issues.
Cooper's character tackles two profound yet common forms of heartbreak: the breakup of his marriage and the Eagles.
The zealous belief that his team will triumph is an illness shared by much of the region, the love that dares not bring us joy. "The Eagles on Sunday were a time to vent our frustrations, and probably not in a way that's healthy," said Quick, who traveled five hours each way from his central Massachusetts home to watch his team repeatedly lose this season.
Silver Linings gets the region's passion for this Super Bowl ringless team, the gift for magical thinking and bizarre behavior that crosses cultural, class, and racial boundaries. Banned from the stadium for life for his behavior, Robert DeNiro tells his son, Cooper, before a game: "Don't drink too much. Don't hit anybody. You'll be fine." Cooper, as hapless as his team, ignores it all.
There are parallels between this movie and Philadelphia's most cherished, though inferior, movie. Like Rocky, "Pat is this guy who has a problem, but he's giving the best effort he has," Quick said. Pat and Tiffany (the astounding Jennifer Lawrence), like Rocky and Adrian, "are two misfits getting together."
Fittingly, this movie celebrating the underdog appears to be an underdog in the Oscar race, to Steven Spielberg's momentous Lincoln and Kathryn Bigelow's dazzling Zero Dark Thirty.
The indomitable hope despite any lasting success, the resistance to making things neat and pretty, the affection, the passion, the sly humor and huge heart, all work to make Silver Linings, as Quick noted, the ultimate love song to Philly.