Silver Linings Playbook is the only Oscar movie I had left to watch, and the fact that Jennifer Lawrence (Hunger Games, Winter’s Bone) won an Academy Award only made my anticipation grow. A romantic comedy about a Philadelphia Eagles fan with emotional issues who falteringly enters into a friendship with a recently widowed woman trying to dance her way to peace and happiness? Sounds just like what the doctor ordered in this almost-summer movie season where the films are hot and the DVDs…aren’t. This one has more than you could’ve bargained for!
Bradley Cooper stars as Pat, the angry, bipolar son of a restaurant owner and degenerate gambler, Pat. Sr. (Robert DeNiro). Released from a mental institution after nine months, Pat wants to win back his wife, whose lover he beat within an inch of his life. Instead, he finds himself struggling with his father’s anger issues, gambling problems, and inability to see past how his own superstitions keep everyone in his circle on a razor’s edge. And then, like a cloudy moment on a stormy day, Tiffany (Lawrence) breaks through with her own issues (sex addiction and mourning) to shake up his worldview.
Throughout the film, which mirrors the seasons as an opportunity to show time lapse, Pat struggles to establish who he is without his ex-wife, and to figure out what in his life is worth committing to. He’s not a “stand up” guy initially because even in the midst of chanting “excelsior!” he’s in denial. But Tiffany sees his life clearly, and their ability to share the truth with the other person allows for some slow rolling healing. They can’t heal themselves, but they might be able to help the other become whole.
Throughout the film, people judge Pat and Tiffany. They judge them as crazy, as certifiable, as too broken to be fixed. But the people judging them are broken, too. They just can’t see that their brokenness inhibits them from being whole, that any degree of brokenness is bad, not based on a hierarchy. It’s like we’re living the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector from Luke’s Gospel: “thank God I am not like him.” It doesn’t actually work that way– even if it happens in church all the time.
In a recent Barna study, Christians were found to be more like the Pharisees of the gospels than Jesus himself. They were more inclined to check the box next to things like “People who follow God’s rules are better than those who don’t” or “I like to point out those who do not have the right theology or doctrine.” They were inclined to live out the role of the Pharisee in the parable, living life like someone watching Married with Children and recognizing that their marriage was better. They were living a life in comparison to others rather than recognizing “there but by the grace of God, go I.”
When Pat and Tiffany work toward wholeness, they do so for themselves, not for the healing that others expect of them. They don’t need to be healed for other people, but for themselves. And like the rest of us, they find healing in community, not on their own. They can’t save themselves, just like we can’t make ourselves whole or be saved on our own. Thankfully, Jesus lived the way through for us, and lived a life reminding us that “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
In the end, our couple of misfit lives fit each other, and in the process, they find wholeness.