Saturday 2 February 2013

Silver Linings Playbook / Celeste & Jesse Forever

Imagine a film that makes you unlearn some of the lies that Hollywood has been telling you about love for your entire life, a film that is more concerned about the mental state of its characters than the way the audience would expect the story to go. Two people, both emotionally fucked up for different reasons, meet, form an unlikely alliance based on dance lessons, and fall in love in the process. Except that's not really what we see: what Silver Linings Playbook does is follow Pat (Bradley Cooper), who's just left a psych ward against the advice of his doctors. He tries to rebuild his life after finding his wife cheating on him with another teacher working at their high school, who he nearly killed after walking in on them. He follows a strict code, based on what he thinks will eventually make his wife take him back - except his rages remain uncontrollably destructive, and his obsession with getting his old life back (as a new and improved man) clearly stands in the way of him actually getting better mentally. Everything changes when he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who recently lost her husband in a car accident. They are both extremely broken people, and their initial connection is based on using each other - he her to deliver a letter to his wife, since he can't approach her directly, she him to practice for a dance competition she wants to take part in - but something real sneaks into their relationship, because she understands him better than he does himself, and she heals some of the wounds from losing someone she loved by falling in love with someone else. None of this is ever verbalized, it's all in the way they look at each other, the way his attitude changes subtly, the way his rages that are so utterly destructive to his family (because Silver Linings Playbook doesn't hesitate to show the brutality of mental illness, the way it almost tears his family apart when his parents can't deal with it) stop. Tiffany remains elusive, since the film is focused on Pat, but has the kind of energy that forces everyone to focus on her whenever she appears. She stubbornly refuses to behave the way she is expected to in reaction to her loss, and reacts with a stubborn fury and anger whenever she's confronted with other people's preconceptions of grieving. He stubbornly refused to behave in any other way than the one he thinks will get him closer to the life he thought he had before, except things change, people change, and maybe none of it was real anyway (asked for why he is so desperate to get his wife back, he responds that she is the most beautiful woman he's ever been with). Silver Linings Playbook is about two people helping each other heal and falling in love in the process, because love shouldn't want to make you become a new person and shed your skin, it should help you grow into the person that you were all along.

Celeste & Jesse Forever gets the entire conventional romantic comedy over with during the credits in the beginning. Two people fall in love, marry, are a couple - but when the film begins, they aren't any more. Except for Celeste (Rashida Jones) and Jesse (Adam Samberg) it makes so little difference whether they are a couple or not that the audience only finds out that they aren't from their concerned best friends, who think that two people about to get divorced should not spend every minute together and behave like two people who are still in the process of falling in love. They both seem arrested in the position they were in while married - Celeste is a successful forecaster of trends, career-driven and focused, Jesse is vague and without any clear aims in life except maybe finding the perfect wave. They are best friends, comfortable in their shared routines and insider jokes that nobody else understands. They are so comfortable that neither of them can move on - but then life forces Jesse to when one of his one night stands is pregnant, and he decides to step up and be a father to the child. Suddenly, their roles are reversed, Jesse is driven and focused and changes in the process, becomes a person no longer completely accessible, as their shared history starts to disappear and break up into different paths. Celeste & Jesse Forever is ultimately an incredibly smart story about a woman who has to figure out who she is outside the context of her one defining relationship when she realizes that things are not always going to stay the same. Rashida Jones is amazing in this role, portraying the stagnation, the downward spiral of someone who is suddenly without a clear focal point in her life. Like Silver Linings Playbook, Celeste & Jesse Forever asks questions about what shape relationships need to take in order to not smother the people involved in it, and what happens when things change dramatically (and how people adapt to radical change). Being best friends is the hard part, but the hardest part, for Celeste, is figuring out how to hold on to her best friend when he is no longer her lover. Like Celeste says to the teenage pop star (Emma Roberts) she initially approaches with all the prejudice in the world ("contempt before investigation") - It never does get better. "But you do".

Silver Linings Playbook (2012), directed by David O. Russell, starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker, Anupam Kher, John Ortiz, Shea Whigham, Julia Stiles.

Celeste & Jesse Forever (2012), directed by Lee Toland Krieger, starring Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, Ari Graynor, Eric Christian Olsen, Elijah Wood.

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