'Silver Linings Playbook' Shattered Stale Rom-Com Mold
Romantic comedies are predictable. They are also popular.
Perhaps the two are connected; maybe people enjoy seeing the same formula over and over again.
For example, in the popular rom com Maid in Manhattan Jennifer Lopez portrays a working class woman whose life transforms into a fairytale when a rich man pursues her, eventually winning her over. However, it is the predictability of these scenarios that propels box office success but may hamper romantic comedies’ ability to garner high praise.
In the past 10 years, only two romantic comedies have been nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. In the past 30 years, only three have won in this category.
But this year, Silver Linings Playbook (out on Blu-ray April 30) was nominated for eight Academy Awards this year, including Best Picture and all four acting categories, proving that romantic comedies can in fact be worthy of the industry’s recognition.
Jennifer Lawrence took home the Best Actress award for her extraordinary performance as Tiffany, a recent widow who uses office romance as a coping mechanism. Though facing strong competition from movies such as Lincoln and only earning about $400,00 in its opening weekend, the movie slowly but surely grew in popularity. Several months after its initial release, the film brought in more than $100 million, eleven times its budget.
Yes, this movie is another case of boy meets girl, boy gets girl, but everything leading up to the much-anticipated kiss is new and surprising. For instance, romantic comedies often portray a man and a woman who are completely incompatible. They constantly bicker and seemingly despise each other.
But Silver Linings Playbook proves that a story of two similar characters can be both surprising and satisfying.
Both Tiffany and Pat (Bradley Cooper) suffer from mental health problems, and though their issues are exhibited in different ways, the two characters are able to relate to one another and understand each other better than any outsider can.
As the movie opens, Pat emerges from a stint at a mental institution where he had been consigned after attacking his wife’s lover. Though she has issued a restraining order against him, Pat is still in love with his wife and works hard at winning her back. Meanwhile, Tiffany deals with her own set of emotional obstacles, namely sinking into depression after her husband’s death.
On the surface, Playbook seems dark and dismal. After all, it is not customary for mental disorders and death to be themes of a comedy. However, the director overcomes conventions of both romantic comedy and comedy in general; through swift, lighthearted dialogue, the protagonists manage to overlook their flaws and troubles, bringing humor into otherwise serious matters.
In one hilarious dinner scene, for example, Pat and Tiffany openly discuss the medications they take, as the other guests sit in uncomfortable silence. With their wide grins and giggles, Pat and Tiffany enthusiastically share experiences, leaving the audience in tears of laughter.
Breaking the rom com convention of the pursued female, Tiffany attempts to win Pat’s affection in bizarre, daring ways. For example, she stalks him. She discovers the place and time Pat goes jogging and makes sure to always appear beside him out of the blue. Pat asks her to leave him alone and attempts to outrun her, but, to the audience’s great pleasure, Tiffany is extraordinarily persistent and always catches up.
Another daring move Playbook makes is to create two protagonists that are both social outcasts. Rom-coms often portray a relationship between someone popular and a person of lesser social standing, such as in Bridget Jones Diary or Loser. Pat and Tiffany, though, are both unpopular, unfiltered and lack any social grace. Though Tiffany’s irrational actions would push any sane person away, as an outsider himself, Pat both understands and overlooks her odd behavior.
Unlike many other romantic comedies, what draws the protagonists closer together is not that one is wounded and the other comes to save him/her. In Silver Linings Playbook, both Pat and Tiffany are wounded and neither of them manage to heal. Instead, they embrace the flaws in themselves and in each other. Tiffany does not swoop Pat off his feet with sweet, romantic gestures. She just outcrazies him.
And he loves her for it.