A Fine Romance
Ask most men why they have little interest in romantic dramas and they’ll tell you, assuming they can rouse themselves to answer, that it’s bad enough being caricatured by the other sex in the real world without having to endure the decreptifiying boredom of the fairy tale relationship, as conceived in the minds of young girls and dragged into adulthood, on the big screen.
The romance movie is primarily aimed at the ladies and movie producers know that the chivalric fantasy, with its promise of happiness ever after and a union based on unconditional love and respect, with an uncomfortable drop of paternalism added for potency, is what sells tickets. Verisimilitude; that’s male resistance to asinine clichés such as changing your fundamental characteristics and becoming more like her father, whom she idolises, doesn’t. Assuming he isn’t a protohominid or unreconstructed throwback to Victorian Britain, 21st century man desires an equal who aspires to be more than a carbon copy of her dutiful mother, who he probably dislikes, and consequentially the few movie romances that work for us are the ones that dramatise the collision of two interesting and evenly matched characters, rather than lazy archetypes who spend ninety minutes lamenting the breakdown in communication between the sexes before forgetting it all and taking a chance in the final reel.
This type of grounded mating, with the emphasis on character, is the kind that stands up. Consequently Roxanne remains a superb movie; funny and astute; while 50 First Dates is gloop for teenage girls. Before Sunset should be seen, Must Love Dogs should be deleted. The less said about the pretentious screwballing of Friends with Benefits the better.
All of which brings us on to Silver Linings Playbook, the genre at its most satisfying, in which that old yarn about a man newly released from a mental hospital following a near deadly assault on his wife’s lover, who returns home in the hope of circumventing a restraining order and wooing her back only to encounter a depressed young widow with nymphomanic tendencies linked to her husband’s death who’s obviously better for him, gets a new spin.
Assuming you can buy into the idea that a woman would cheat on Bradley Cooper with a stick thin, balding middle-aged man, even a cuddly, bi-polar version of Bradley, thereby facilitating the events that place him in Jennifer Lawrence’s path, then this is a reassuringly neurotic meeting of disturbed minds, that for all the talk of pacifying meds, therapy and emotional fragility, feels reassuringly real in way that most on screen courtships don’t. It’s honest you see; and honestly, as any fule no, is the bedrock of any successful relationship whether it be between two homo fictives or an audience and their movies.
The truth is everyone’s slightly off balance, aren’t they? Perhaps not to the point where they’re tossing Hemingway’s greatest works through a pane of glass or whoring as a coping mechanism, but Pat and Tiffany have the feel of three dimensional human beings, albeit a pair whose psychological flaws are concentrated in a neighbourhood where some low level personality disorder seems compulsory.
Their tangible fragility drives the story which in turns lends credence to their highly strung personas. In short, this is a burgeoning romance we can believe in, buoyed by a couple of sensitive but animated performances from Cooper and Lawrence. In a movie that’s never too kooky or self-consciously off the wall for its own good, even Chris Tucker, normally a splinter behind the eye, lends nicely judged support.
Following the solid but stolid The Fighter, David O. Russell can rightly judge this as a return to the idiosyncratic form that made his name. The relationship between this broken pair unfolds organically, with the requisite wit and tenderness required to woo both sexes, plus some nice dynamic camerawork to underline Cooper’s occasionally febrile mental state. It’s predictable, as these things often are, but the journey is, for once, worth taking, even if the destination is never in doubt.