Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in
humility regard others as better than yourselves.
4Let each of you look not to your own interests,
but to the interests of others.
Almost everybody has a touch of craziness in director/writer David O. Russell’s film, one that comes close to tak ing us back to the days of screwball comedies. Based on Matthew Quick’s 2008 novel, this film delves into the highs and lows of the human psyche, not profoundly, but still with enough insight to lift it above the level of most so-called comedies.
Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper) has just returned to Philadelphia froman eight month stint in a Baltimore mental institution and still under the care of a therapist. He had been in jail after trying to kill the head of the college English Department where he also taught. Returning home one day, he had caught the guy naked in the shower with his wife. Pat had lost everything, his wife and home, and had been sent to the mental institution on a plea bargain only because he was discovered to have a bipolar disorder.
Now living with his father Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro Dolores) and mother Delores (Jacki Weaver), he is almost wildly optimistic about his future. “Negativity is a poison like nothing else,” he says. He writes such slogans and thoughts in his journal, the name of which gives the film its title. Many times a day he repeats his motto, “Excelsior!” He actually thinks he could win his wife back, if only he can get around the restraining order she has obtained.
Pat, Sr. could stand some therapy himself, with his obsession for the Philadelphia Eagles. He can watch them only on TV now because he was banned from the stadium for fighting over the, His many superstitions include aving the TV remotes pointed at a certain angle and his insistence that his son join him for the games because they win when the two are together. It is the calm, ever-patient Delores who keeps her husband on an even keel and maintains some semblance of order around the house.
Like others with his infliction, Pat tests the patience of his parents. He has been reading Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, mainly because his former wife has assigned it to her high school English students. When he finishes it in the middle of the night he is enraged that it does not have a happy ending. He barges into his parents’ bedroom, ranting and raving how the death of the heroine is so unfair after all that she and her lover had gone through. It is all that Delores and Pat Sr. can do to calm him down.
Pat encounters Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) when mutual friends invite them to what they hope will be a hook-up dinner at their house. Tiffany also has problems, magnified by the death of her policeman husband. With little to talk about, they find common ground by comparing notes of what drugs each has taken for treatment, but that is about it. He has no intention of seeing her again. A little later, while running past Tiffany’s house, they encounter each other again, she too jogging for exercise. They still do not hit it off well, she being as blunt spoken as he. However, we know that this will not be their last time together.
There will be a big ball game and a dance contest, and even a meeting with the estranged wife with lots of craziness before Pat will emerge from his illusions about his future with the former wife. Bradley Cooper achieves just the right edgy delivery to make us believe in his character, and Jennifer Lawrence shows that she is as good at comedy as in adventure tales. It takes a lot for these two to come out of their self-obsession and become concerned about the feelings and concerns of the other, but when they do we cheer for them and wish them well on a road that will always be rocky, but never dull.
1. What is your favorite scene in the film, and why? What do you think of the way that bipolar disorder is dealt with in the story/ 2. From what Tiffany tells Pat about herself in the restaurant scene ( “crazy slut with a dead husband” ), do you think she likes herself very much? How are the two of them good for each other?
3. In one scene Tiffany says, “I opened up to you, and you judged me.” How is this one of the worst things we can do to a person? Have you had a similar experience? Do you think this is a reason that so many people fear intimacy?
4. What do you think about the way the dance contest is incorporated into the plot? Compare this to such films as Saturday Night Fever or Dirty Dancing.
4. What is Pat’s dilemma on the day of the football game and the dance contest? Which commitment do you think you would choose to honor?
5. What do you think of the ending?