The National Hockey League resumed play this weekend after a lengthy lockout. I’m situated in Toronto, a city where fans cheer loudly while having lost all hope. The Maple Leafs are widely understood to be the most successful and lucrative franchise in hockey, if not all of sports. Why? Because no matter how bad this team gets –having last won the Stanley Cup in 1967—the team sells every seat. This is also the city that for a time had the best attendance in baseball: while they were winners in the early 1990s. When the big free agents (Molitor, Winfield, Carter, White, Morris etc) were gone, so were the fans. We’ll see if some of that excitement will return when baseball season opens.
It’s the last Sunday before Super Sunday, the week when the finalists are determined for the championship of American professional football. San Francisco eliminated Atlanta in the NFC game. As I write this Baltimore and New England are slugging it out for the AFC title.
There were several other cities whose teams were involved in the tournament. Denver, Seattle, Green Bay, Houston….
While they’ve been to the big show (they didn’t win) they’re in a kind of wilderness recently. The closest they’ve been to a superbowl are divisional battles with the Giants or the Cowboys.
No wonder the film Silver Linings Playbook (or “SLP”: based on a recent novel of the same name by Matthew Quick) is framed around the Philadelphia Eagles, a team who have disappointed their fans often over the years. It’s not the Toronto of the NFL, because they’ve known the torment of occasional success, the agony of dashed hopes. In Toronto we laugh at the Leafs, whereas in Philly they still believe enough to rage and roar against cruel fate.
SLP is the latest in a series of comedies pushing the envelope of what we understand by the genre. When I wrote awhile ago about Young Adult (a dark comedy starring Charlize Theron, written by Diablo Cody, assembled without the usual happy ingredients) I looked at this trend in comedy. While it can’t be mistaken for reality TV, I think tastes & the boundaries of realism are changing radically, as they must. Our tolerance for pain in the aftermath of 9-11 and assorted televised atrocities means that comedy works differently. While I don’t think I am remotely cynical, my capacity for faith and trust have been shaken in various ways, setting me up for a darker sort of punch-line.
Okay, there is one way in which I am cynical, and that’s as an observer of Hollywood industry dynamics. When I saw the trailer for SLP all I could see was the latest step in the reinvention of Bradley Cooper as a serious actor, the same way so many stars legitimize their work by going outside their usual comfort zone. It’s a noble idea, when a comedian does drama, or an action hero tries comedy. I believe in stretching myself, so I must open my mind to this. Even so I kept wondering how the film might have worked with a different star, perhaps because I was so unconvinced by this portrayal, couldn’t buy it. Sorry.
But what do I know? Cooper has an Academy Award nomination for best actor, so maybe I am an ignoramus. Remarkably each of the four principals has an Oscar nomination. The other three?
- Jennifer Lawrence is wonderfully quirky. Whenever she’s on the screen you can’t take your eyes off her, a performance totally unlike her work in Hunger Games and already her second Oscar nomination.
- Jacki Weaver vanishes into the film, a performance so smooth it doesn’t look like she’s acting
- Robert De Niro is perhaps a bit over-the-top in places, as ostentatiously mad as his son, even if the hint of a generational dimension to their rages gives the story an extra weight.
So I am not saying I don’t like the film; quite the contrary.
For the first hour of SLP I wasn’t sure what I was seeing. In places it’s very dark. I enjoyed that sense of dislocation, of not really knowing where it’s going although the film softens considerably in its last half hour.
Now I have to read Matthew Quick’s novel.