Film Crit Hulk Smash: HULK SMASHES THE PUNY PARADIGMS OF FILM CRITICISM WITH HULK-SIZED SEMIOTICAL ESSAYS ON STORYTELLING, CINEMATIC PRINCIPLES, AND MEDIA THEORY! HULK EVEN MAKE PRACTICAL HOW-TO GUIDES! See More...

Film Crit Hulk Smash: HULK VS. SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK AND CATHARTIC DISHONESTY

Hulk takes on the awards season darling. 

Film Crit Hulk Smash: HULK VS. SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK AND CATHARTIC DISHONESTY

NOTE: THIS WILL BE BRIEF AND SPOILERY.

THE PROBLEM WITH SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK IS THAT IT IS A LIE.

BUT WE'LL GET TO THAT.

THE FIRST THING TO KNOW IS THAT HULK THINKS THERE ARE A LOT OF SINGULARLY "GOOD" THINGS ABOUT THIS FILM. LIKE THE FACT THAT EVERYONE IN IT IS PRETTY DAMN GREAT. HULK TYPICALLY ISN'T THE BIGGEST BRADLEY COOPER FAN TO BE HONEST (HULK FINDS HIM TO BE ONE OF THE MOST MISCAST MAJOR ACTORS AROUND), BUT HE ACTUALLY FLOATS IN AND OUT OF THIS ONE WITH REAL MOMENTS OF VIABILITY HERE, SOMETIMES BEING GENUINELY FUNNY OR EVEN SCARY. AND JENNIFER LAWRENCE EASILY CONTINUES TO PROVE THAT SHE DESERVES HEAVYWEIGHT STATUS. HECK, EVEN DE NIRO SEEMS LIKE HE ISN'T SLEEPWALKING. AS FOR DAVID O. RUSSELL, HULK FIRST WANTS TO QUALIFY THAT HULK LIKES HIS WORK A GREAT DEAL. HULK LOVES THE FACT THAT HE HAS A DISTINCT VOICE AND EVEN HIS FIRST FORAY INTO MORE MAINSTREAM STUFF WITH THE FIGHTER WORKED ASTRONOMICALLY WELL (YOU COULD ARGUE THREE KINGS WAS INTENDED AS MAINSTREAM BUT REALLY IT WAS DOWNRIGHT SUBVERSIVE). BUT HULK'S MISGIVINGS WITH SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK STAY WITH O. RUSSELL BECAUSE THE FILM'S CENTRAL PROBLEM COMES DOWN TO A MATTER OF CONSTRUCTION AND TONE, AND GO POSSIBLY RIGHT DOWN TO THE FILM'S INCEPTION.

SO THE FILM BRINGS US INTO A WORLD OF TWO PEOPLE WHO CONSTANTLY HAVE THE NARRATIVE OF THEIR OWN LIVES UNDERCUT WITH GRIM REALITY. WHETHER IT'S THE TRUTH OF THEIR MENTAL ILLNESS. THE TRUTH OF THEIR PASTS, THE TRUTH OF THEIR ACTIONS OR THE TRUTH OF THEIR HOPES AND DREAMS. AND WORTH NOTING IS HOW THEY OFTEN BRING THESE GRIM, UGLY TRUTHS TO THE SURFACE THEMSELVES. THEY LIE TO THEMSELVES. THEN THEY REVEAL. AND THIS ENTIRE SYSTEM OF REVEALING THE "REALITY" ACTUALLY BECOMES THE FILM'S MODUS OPERANDI. IT SEEMS THAT  EVERY BIT OF HUMOR, PLOTTING AND DRAMA COMES FROM A CHARACTER SUBVERTING NORMALCY IN THE NAME OF SOMETHING DARKER OR MORE MESSY. HONESTY IS THE CHOSEN DELIVERY DEVICE HERE. AND EVEN WITH A SENSE OF HUMOR, IT'S OFTEN DIFFICULT TO WATCH. BUT THAT'S OKAY, BECAUSE THIS IS A FILM THAT ABSOLUTELY 100% POSITS ITSELF AS BEING ABOUT MENTAL ILLNESS AND IT CONSTANTLY USES THE DISASTROUS REALITIES OF THESE DISEASES AS A STORYTELLING OR PURPOSEFULLY AFFECTING HAMMER.

AND THEN IT DOESN'T ANYMORE.

IN FACT, THE FILM BECOMES SO OVERCOME WITH WHAT HULK WILL CALL "MOVIE-NESS" THAT IT WHOLLY UNDERMINES ITS MODUS OPERANDI ALL TOGETHER. NOW, TO QUALIFY THIS, PLEASE UNDERSTAND THAT HULK LOVES MOVIE-NESS. HULK LOVES WONDER AND AWE AND FAMILIAR STORIES AND CONVENTIONALITY, AS LONG AS THEY'RE UPHOLDING THE REASONS WE TELL THOSE KINDS OF CONVENTIONAL STORIES TO BEGIN WITH. THERE'S A CERTAIN MAGIC TO HERO STORIES AND SCREWBALL COMEDIES AND ROMANCES AND EPICS AND OTHER THINGS WHICH ARE 100% REPRESENTATIVE OF CINEMA'S SWEEPING POWER OF ESCAPISM. BUT THE IMPORTANT THING IS THAT THERE'S BOTH A VENEER AND UNDERSTANDING OF HOW THESE MOVIES NEED TO WORK IN ORDER FOR THEM TO BE VIABLE. THERE'S AN UNDERSTANDING OF PURPOSE THERE. AND A KEY TO MAKING THESE KINDS OF MOVIES WORK IS TO DEFINE THAT "MOVIE-NESS" FROM THE VERY BEGINNING. YOU TELL THE AUDIENCE "WE ARE ENTERING THIS KIND OF WORLD WHERE STORIES MEAN THIS." ETC. SO THE PROBLEM OF SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK IS THAT IT IS SETTING US UP FOR GRIM REALITY AND SOBRIETY AND THEN JUST THROWS OUT HOLLYWOOD CURE-ALL TACTICS OF LIKEABLE DANCE NUMBERS, SUDDEN CONFESSIONS OF LOVE, IGNORANCE OF PAST CONFLICTS AND EVEN STRICT DISHONESTY. YES THE FILM ALWAYS PROMISED US A TITULAR SILVER LINING, BUT INSTEAD WE GET THE HOOK-LINE-SINKER OF THE GLORIOUS, MAGIC HAPPY ENDING.

THE PROBLEM IS THAT APPEARS TO WORK. SINCE THE FILM IS WELL-REALIZED WITH STRONG CHARACTERIZATION THE FACT THAT THEY ARE GIVEN A NEEDED CATHARSIS WORKS ON US EMOTIONALLY. WE ARE PROPERLY RELIEVED FOR CHARACTERS WE WORRIED ABOUT. THE END RESULT IS ONE WALKING OUT OF THE FILM FEELING THE MOVIE "WORKS" FAR BETTER THAN IT SHOULD. HECK, YOU COULD EVEN ARGUE THAT THE USE OF GRIM REALITY ENDS UP BEING A DRAMATIC CONSTRUCT TO MAKE US REALLY BELIEVE THINGS COULD GO WRONG FOR OUR MAIN CHARACTERS. IT GIVE IT STAKES. BUT AS CLEVER AS THAT SEEMS, THAT EMOTIONAL RESOLUTION DOESN'T WORK IN ANY REAL COHERENT WAY. THEY FEEL NICE, BUT THE STORY'S PROPOSED THEMATIC AND EMOTIONAL RECONCILIATIONS DON'T ACTUALLY ADD UP. THE STORY JUST CHOSE TO BECOME A MOVIE IN ORDER TO SOLVE ITS PROBLEMS.

HELL, THIS IS A MOVIE WHERE ALL THE CHARACTERS GET INTO A ROOM AND ESSENTIALLY INVENT THE STAKES OF THE LAST ACT. AND IT'S A LAST ACT THAT ONLY PAYS OFF IN THE NOTION OF AFFIRMATION AND ALLEVIATION. IT ONLY TELLS US THAT THESE TWO PEOPLE CAN FALL IN LOVE WITH EACH OTHER, WHICH IS TOTALLY ONE OF CINEMA'S GREAT AND IMPORTANT PROMISES (READ: HOPE), BUT IF THEY SPENT TWO HOURS TRYING TO CONVINCE HULK HOW PROFOUNDLY FUCKED UP THEY ARE AND HOW THE KEY TO FIXING THEMSELVES IS THROUGH ADDRESSING THE VALID ISSUES AT THE CRUX OF THEIR PERSONALITIES, THEN WHAT IS ACTUALLY BEING SOLVED BY THEIR COMING TOGETHER? HECK, ARE THOSE CENTRAL ISSUES EVEN ADDRESSED IN THE LAST ACT AFTER BEING ADDRESSED SO INTENTLY EARLIER IN THE FILM? NOPE. THEY ARE NOT. AND THEREFORE HULK CAN HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THEIR LOVE WILL ULTIMATELY MEAN FOR THEM. WHICH ADMITTEDLY IS OFTEN THE CASE IN THE HAPPILY-EVER-AFTER ENDINGS OF THE "MISFIT LOVE" GENRE, BUT REMEMBER, THIS IS A FILM THAT HAD A MODUS OPERANDI OF UNDERCUTTING LIES WITH GRIM REALITY. IT WAS THE EVEN THE POINT. IT WAS THE FILM'S VOICE. AND IN THE END IT JUST COMPLETELY IGNORES ITSELF TO GIVE INTO THE LIE OF MOVIES.

MEANING THE ULTIMATE PROBLEM OF SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK IS THERE'S NO ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF THE LIE.

THE FUNNY THING IS THAT HULK WASN'T EVEN PLANNING ON WRITING ABOUT THIS MOVIE, BUT THE SUDDEN AWARD SEASON PEDIGREE FOR THE FILM MADE A CASE FOR BRINGING IT UP. THIS ISN'T A PART OF THAT GAME OF TEARING DOWN A MOVIE JUST BECAUSE OTHERS ARE LIKING IT, BUT MUCH MORE OF AN OPPORTUNITY TO TALK ABOUT WHY THESE SORTS OF DISHONEST MOVIES ALWAYS SEEM TO RESONATE WITH AWARDS AUDIENCES. IT'S NOT NEARLY AS DISHONEST A FILM AS SOMETHING LIKE LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, BUT THE SAME STINK IS THERE. THEY ARE FILMS THAT PUT ON THE POSTURE OF BEING ABOUT REAL THINGS OF IMPORT, NO MATTER HOW SURFACE LEVEL, BUT THEN THEY SIMPLY ALLEVIATE US WITH THE TONE OF AFFIRMATION TO NO REAL FUNCTIONAL PURPOSE OR CATHARSIS. HULK ALWAYS SAYS THAT EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THESE KINDS OF FILMS SHOULD END WITH ALL THE CHARACTERS GETTING ONTO A BUS, HAPPY AND GIGGLING, THEN SLOWLY START STARING STRAIGHT AHEAD: "WHAT DID WE JUST ACTUALLY SOLVE!?" IT'S REMARKABLY VALID THOUGH THAT ISN'T SO MUCH ABOUT LOGIC BUT THEMATIC RESONANCE (I.E. THE LASTING IMPACT OF YOUR FILM). HECK, YOU COULD TAKE EVERY SINGLE FILM AND ASK "DOES IT PASS THE BUS TEST?" AND ARRIVE AT PRETTY SOLID CONCLUSIONS ABOUT THE SANCTITY OF THE STORY. AFTER ALL, THERE'S A REASON THE GRADUATE IS STILL TRANSCENDENT ALL THESE YEARS LATER.

SO WHY DO THESE SORTS OF DISHONEST FILMS ALWAYS DO WELL IN AWARDS SEASON? WELL, THERE'S A CRUDE WAY HULK COULD PUT IT: THE FILMS GIVE THE AIR OF SERIOUSNESS OR DANGER, WITHOUT ACTUALLY PUTTING US IN ANY REALISTIC DANGER AND THAT'S INTELLECTUALLY COMFORTING. THE ILLUSION OF LEARNING AND ALL THAT JAZZ. BUT IT'S OFTEN NEAR-SOUL-CRUSHING WHEN YOU REALIZE PEOPLE CAN'T SEE THE CRUX OF THAT LIE. WHEN YOU TAKE A MOVIE LIKE CRASH AND SAY "YOU REALIZE THIS ADDS UP TO NONSENSE, RIGHT?" BUT IT DOESN'T MATTER. EVEN THOUGH THESE FILMS NEVER STAND THE TEST OF TIME, HULK HAS ACCEPTED THE FACT THAT THIS IS SOMEHOW A VIABLE WAY TO EARN PRESTIGE. FIGHTING IT IS LIKE TRYING TO FIGHT THE TIDES.

PERHAPS IT'S JUST SYMPTOMATIC OF WHAT PEOPLE WANT. HULK WILL BE THE FIRST TO ADMIT LIFE IS PRETTY FUCKING HARD AND PERHAPS THERE'S SOMETHING TO WANTING TO DESPERATELY BELIEVE IN THE LIE, NO MATTER HOW TROUBLESOME. WHO WOULDN'T WANT DANCE SEQUENCES TO WASH AWAY THAT CRAPPY LIFE STUFF? BUT WHILE HULK LIKES ESCAPISM AS MUCH AS ANYONE, HULK PREFERS WHEN A FILM IS BEING HONEST ABOUT ITS ESCAPISM FROM THE ONSET (AND MAYBE EVEN HAS SOMETHING RESONANT TO SAY THROUGH METAPHOR). BUT IF A FILM IS GOING TO LAY "HONESTY" ON YOU FROM THE BEGINNING AND THEN JUST USE IT AS A RUSE OF SERIOUSNESS BEFORE LYING ITS ASS OFF IN TERMS OF CATHARSIS... WELL HULK HAS A REAL PROBLEM WITH THAT. IT ROBS ART OF ITS IMPORT AND THEMATIC COHERENCY.

BUT PERHAPS THE LOVE OF THESE DISHONEST FILMS JUST HELPS PROVE WHAT HULK ARGUES ALL THE TIME: THAT PEOPLE JUST WATCH MOVIES EMOTIONALLY (FOR THE MOST PART). AFTER ALL, HULK JUST SPENT AN ENTIRE COLUMN ARGUING FOR THE IMPORTANCE OF EMOTIONAL FUNCTION OVER LOGIC, BUT WITHIN THE CONFINES OF THAT COLUMN HULK WAS ACTUALLY ARGUING FOR THEMATIC RESONANCE. THE KINDS OF MESSAGES AND ART THAT CONNECT WITH US AND MAKE US BETTER PEOPLE. THOSE FILMS LAST. WHICH MEANS IT SHOULD BE NO SURPRISE THAT DISHONEST FILMS DON'T LAST. AND PERHAPS A MUCH BETTER QUESTION TO ASK IS IF THE DIRECTOR IS SMART ENOUGH TO UNDERSTAND EMOTIONAL MANIPULATION THEN SHOULDN'T THE DIRECTOR BE SMART ENOUGH TO UNDERSTAND THE RESPONSIBILITY OF IT? TO UNDERSTAND THAT WE SAVE THAT KIND OF EMOTIONAL MOVIE CONSTRUCTION FOR THE SORT OF ESCAPISM WHERE IT ACTUALLY MAKES SENSE? BECAUSE THE MOMENT YOU INTERSPERSE EMOTIONAL CATHARSIS OVER THEMATIC INCONGRUITY AND SOCIETY CALLS IT FUNCTIONAL AND SUCCESSFUL ART, WELL, THAT'S THE MOMENT WHEN THINGS GET KIND OF DANGEROUS.

AND IF THIS FILM TRIED TO CONVEY ANY AWARENESS OF THE ENDING'S LIE THEN IT COULD HAVE SOMETHING POINTED TO SAY. IT COULD POSSIBLY EVEN BE GREAT (AGAIN, TURN TO THE GENIUS OF THE GRADUATE), BUT THE SAD TRUTH IS THAT SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK JUST CHEAPLY TURNS ITSELF INTO A MOVIE TO SAVE ITSELF. IT'S WELL ACTED AND HAS GREAT, SINGULAR MOMENTS, BUT HULK SAYS IT ALL THE TIME: THE ENDING IS THE CONCEIT. AND DESPITE THE FEELINGS OF ALLEVIATION, THE ENDING OF THIS FILM IS A ROTTEN LIE. SO HULK HAS NO IDEA WHAT THE VALUE OF THIS FILM IS SUPPOSED TO BE. HULK TALKS ABOUT THE PURPOSE OF ART ALL THE TIME AND MOVIES NEEDING TO HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY, SO WHAT DOES THIS FILM HAVE TO ULTIMATELY SAY ABOUT MENTAL ILLNESS? IT'S NOT THAT IT HAS TO BE DIDACTIC OR ANYTHING, BUT IF IT'S GOING TO WASH OVER EVERYTHING THAT IT SOUGHT SO HARD TO ESTABLISH THEN WHAT WERE THEY EVEN ATTEMPTING? WHAT'S THE POINT?

YOU MAY FIND HULK'S INSISTENCE ON THIS QUESTION A BIT OVERBLOWN, BUT TAKE A MOMENT TO CONSIDER THE FACT THAT THIS FILM IS BEING POSITIONED AS "THE BEST" OF WHAT CINEMA CAN OFFER. TAKE A MOMENT TO CONSIDER THE FACT THAT THIS FILM POSITIONS ITSELF AS SOMETHING ROOTED IN STARK REALITY. TAKE A MOMENT TO CONSIDER THE FACT THAT DAVID O. RUSSELL IS A GUY WHO HAS ALWAYS HAD A LOT TO SAY. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF HIS FILMS, FROM SPANKING THE MONKEY TO THREE KINGS TO I HEART HUCKABEES TO THE FIGHTER IS LOADED WITH IMPORT, COMMENTARY AND PURPOSE. DUDE'S GOT STUFF TO SAY. AND MAYBE HE WANTED TO MAKE THAT KIND OF MOVIE THAT HAD A LOT TO SAY, BUT IT JUST GOT SUCKED UP THE PATH OF MOVIE-NESS IN A MANNER THAT WAS NEVER, EVER CALLED FOR.

HULK LIKES DANCE SEQUENCES AS MUCH AS ANYONE...

... BUT THEY AREN'T CURE-ALLS.

<3 HULK

Film Crit Hulk's photo About the Author: FILM CRIT HULK WAS CREATED IN A CHAOTIC LAB EXPERIMENT INVOLVING GAMMA RADIATION, TELEPODS, AND THE GHOST OF PAULINE KAEL. NOW HULK HAVE DEEP AND ABIDING LOVE CINEMA.
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