I didn't much care for The Silver Linings Playbook. I found it to be a painfully formulaic romantic comedy that seems to think making its lead duo a little quirky justifies a paint-by-numbers screenplay and rather thin characterizations. I think the film's strong and painful first act, where David O Russell doesn't shy away from the heartache and constant stress of living with a mentally-disturbed adult, gives way to a 'up with quirky people' rom-com where Jennifer Lawrence basically plays a fantasy fuck toy and/or manic pixie dream girl who exits purely to pull Bradley Cooper out of his mental anguish (that she may win an Oscar for this of all performances merits an essay in-and-of-itself). I think Robert De Niro's alleged 'comeback' turn is wildly overrated, as he is given little to do aside from two token monologues. And the film goes completely off the rails into contrivance in its final thirty minutes, with the kind of inexplicable 'raised stakes' that would have been laughed off the screen in a vehicle starring the likes of Kathryn Heigl or Jennifer Aniston. Yet here we sit where this completely generic and contrived romantic comedy is considered an Oscar contender. So the question becomes, is it right that I carry more negative feelings about the picture primarily because of its alleged award-worthy status?
It's arguably one the less appealing portions of this whole awards-show race: Judging the films that come down the pike first as would-be Oscar contenders and second as stand-alone works of art. We all try not to do it. But the first reviews of the likes of Zero Dark Thirty (which of course I saw on Thursday) and/or tweets about Les Miserables (seeing it December 11th, so no spoilers!) immediately pounced on the 'What are its Oscar chances?' and then 'how does it work as a movie?'. Not every would-be Oscar contender measures up. The question becomes, is it fair or right to judge a mediocre film more harshly because others around you love it and/or it's considered an awards contender? We do this dance every year in one form or another. Taken on their own merits, The Artist and The King's Speech were relatively harmless entertainments. But their critical reception became something of a love it or hate it debate purely to due their status as presumptive Oscar winners. There is something disconcerting about the very notion of the presumptive Oscar contender, which automatically casts certain films as awards contenders irrelevant of their eventual quality. Even after Rob Marshall's Nine received terrible reviews and bombed at the box office, there was still talk that it might attain Oscar glory purely because it was deemed 'one of those films'. It was mostly shut out, as well it deserved to be, but the fact that it even entered the discussion *after* critics saw it says something about how the awards circuit conducts itself.
Obviously this is a different situation. The majority of critics and audiences like or love The Silver Lining Playbook. I've been in the minority on this stuff before, but the question I have to ask myself is whether I would be as harsh in my feelings towards the film, which I can now objectively admit is merely mediocre, if it were released in late February and wasn't considered a sure-fire Oscar contender? Moreover, would it be getting the huzzahs it is getting if it weren't already proclaimed an Oscar favorite far in advance of its actual release? Like Midnight In Paris, I'd argue that The Silver Linings Playbook is a mediocre and contrived romantic comedy that is getting overpraised at least somewhat because it's told from a man's point-of-view. It's no secret that we often place more reverence in male melodrama than female melodrama and how we view romantic comedies through the gender prism is arguably the best example of such. But that's a rant for another day. The Silver Linings Playbook is not the worst film of the year nor is it in itself any crime against cinema. But I can't help looking at it through a harsher lens because others around me seem to think it's among the best films of the year. Keeping in mind that we're dealing with a subjective reaction and subjective film criticism, is that my problem or is it a problem in general?