What is a woman’s love?

Written and directed by Jeff Nichols and starring Matthew McConaugheyTye SheridanSam Shepard, and Reese Witherspoon.  

I thought this was going to be an adventure pirate film about kids stuck on an island, getting muddy as they have adventures. It’s true, I only scanned the synopsis. I thought Matthew and Reese were going to be a Hollywood version of the kid’s fun-loving parents.

Ha ha on me.

I guess that’s why Rotten Tomatoes gave this film 99%–there’s way more here than I imagined.

Now that I’ve actually read a bunch of reviews, I’ll tell you I agree with the many comparisons to Mark Twain’s Huck Fin, that kind of adventure, that childlike vision of the world, and that sort of South. An equal amount of people are talking about the upsurgence of Southern films like Beast of the Southern Wild and Jeff Nichols’s first two critically favored forays Take Shelter and Shotgun Stories, as well as Winter’s Bone, which offers a sister in hero, environment and tone.

A lot of great discourse is out there about why these films are being made and the Southerners who are making them.  I add my view as a woman aware of the perspective and history surrounding me, which I think especially relevant to Mud.  That’s because Mud is a soliloquy on a man loving a woman.  The film riffs off of variations such as: What women are to men, where we get our stories, the nature of love, and fantasy versus reality.

Ellis and Neckbone, wonderfully played by Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland, are the boys whose adventures steer the film. Upon meeting them, it is immediately obvious that these are people of depth and sympathy. They are young, on the final cliff before hormones stretch them into men; however, we can already perceive facets of the men they will become.

The men of Mud are also complex creatures. At every twist there is more than meets the eye, there are quirks and nuances to these Arkansans that we discover only slowly, sometimes even when we’ve already written them off. Several share the limelight. There’s Ray McKinnon as Senior, Ellis’ bewildered and tender father, whose crisis catalyzes much of what unfolds. There’s Matthew McConaughey’s wild, charming and woeful soul, aptly called Mud. There’s Sam Shepard’s Tom Blankenship, a tight-lipped sentinel. And in a vital cameo, Michael Shannon plays Neck’s juvenile, partying uncle Galen.

The female characters are also painted with a careful and caring hand. Yet Ellis’ unhappy mother Mary Lee, played by Sarah Paulson, Reese Witherspoon’s haggard Juniper, and love interest May Pearl, played by Bonnie Sturdivant, are more difficult to see. They are paintings in the truest sense. Even as all three of them let their men down, their voices are silent. These are women are of little words, closed doors, walking away, silent waves, and unreadable kisses.


Alas, the women in Mud are mainly surface objects against which men and boys try to understand themselves. It’s the male faces we watch in anguish, their words and interpretations that we hear. Even as Ellis’ dad delivers his catch every day, as Mud builds bonfires to cleanse bad spirit, as Neck’s uncle woos women, or as Ellis recovers from a near lethal snake bite, they are pinned by big questions of the soul: How do I make this woman love me? How do I keep this woman with me? Lastly, the whopper: What is a woman’s love?

Throughout the story our hero, Ellis, only wants to find and understand love. He champions love because he recognizes that without it most of his world is lost. He loses his family, he loses his home.  This powerful motivation fuels every step we take in Mud, and each step pulls us into the vortex of events at their peak. A flood, a bitter divorce, the melancholy end of Riverboat life, a murder, a woman and a man on the run and menacing hunters who chase them.

Two large figures in Ellis’ life suffer a similar anguish, his cragged and gentle father, and the mysterious man on the beach, Mud.  Each is a man lost without his woman. Through this lens, women are seen as the key to a man’s happiness, a way in, a place a man can go to be brought joy or pain. In this way Mud is about men as Watchers, as outsiders to the feminine, to the opacity of the female experience.

   Mary Lee

Ellis’ loving mother is often in the grips of an indefinite sorrow . Ellis experiences her as the rooting force in his life, yet doesn’t comprehend her actions; At the same time he is unaware of the link between his unwillingness to talk with her and his ignorance.  Perhaps this deficiency has been left by his unwitting father, who has found it impossible to hold the wife he still wants.

Then there’s Juniper, a mystifying, blurred figure. The boys’ eyes follow her high-heeled gait, drawn to her orbit, rapt. She shows up in the local motel, but merely waits, smokes, watches herself be watched. Will she reveal herself a hero or unworthy? Is she faithful or self-serving? For all that we try, we are constantly left without answer. Even as he’s known her for most of his life, Mud watches the focus of his desire and dreams, always on the outside looking in, wondering, wanting, both a protector and a beggar.

Last we see the buxom, breezy May Pearl. Pinning his boyish hopes on winning her, Ellis comes out fists fighting, leaving strings of phone messages, following her into pack after high school pack until he learns the reality of his ambition. Females can hurt, and harm and burn. Watch out.

It is compelling to watch a lovesick and sweet youth fall for the high school queen, as Ellis falls for May Pearl. We, like Neckbone, are drawn to the unfolding of her double-cross. Yet, it would have been interesting to have a girl witness this fate for Ellis, her friend, her brother. Neckbone’s view is almost always in sync with Ellis’. But a girl’s observation would have added complexity, providing the audience with access into the world of May Pearl.  As it is, the teen queen is more of a foil than a character.

   May Pearl

Similarly, without a way to Juniper’s inner self, it might be easy to blame her for her circumstance. This is because when we are given no knowledge, we assume that there isn’t any. Ironically, this could not be farther from the truth. A richer story would have emerged if we were given a way to understand the reality that women don’t go to bars to randomly meet guys, do not look for abusers, and don’t get themselves into impossibly violent situations without an abundance of sad reasons. Despite reams of evidence to the contrary about motivations for her actions, without more depth, Juniper becomes a vessel for male—and our—judgment.

But because the men of Mud love these women, we feel a pull to love them. Even obscure, even unfathomable, we want Mary Lee, Juniper and May Pearl to be good. We want them to be loving so that our heroes can be happy and everyone can live happily ever after. Senior wants it; Ellis wants it, and Mud wants it, more than anything else in their lives at this time and place.

The question Mud poses is: Will anyone get what they hope for?

 Three dreamers

As far as Nichols delved into his story he achieved some wonderful answers. And some not. So while I often felt something missing, I was thoroughly entertained as well as touched. I highly recommend Mud, for as much the answers it gave as for the questions it left unasked and unsolved.


Weave Me a Tale, Sing me a Song

Game of Thrones Season 3


Now a third season is launching on March 31st, I’m reviewing the past two seasons.

In the ancient heroic tradition, this is a juicy yarn woven into fire-lit air. The crowded room listens enthralled as the story is revealed through the long night. The air is misty with cold, a veiled tent, or a campfire circle.  Or…We could stare rapt from cozy couch, electric blue illuminating our faces.   These tellers paint with bold colors that captivate.

  Tell us a Story O Great Martin

We have:

  •  Remarkable characters,
  • Exciting heroes, Intriguing villains,
  • Prowess, Exotic lands,
  • Call to battle,
  • Strands and depths of conflict,
  • Oaths, A love story,
  • Vendetta, Old wounds, Forbidden love, Betrayal,
  • Family unity and unrest,
  • Inner turmoil,
  • High born and low born,
  • Sex,
  • Intrigue
You wonder: Is there nothing that this story does not encompass?
I’d say that all-encompassing is an excellent description of this tale.

Scenes from Seasons One and Two:

Long-seated power is vanquished and three powerful families are placed on the board: The Starks of the North, the Lannisters of the midlands, whose daughter is the Queen, and the Baratheon clan, whose middle son is enthroned at Kings Landing.  The throne is composed of fused swords.

When safety vanishes, the Royal youngest flee across the water to grow. The Old Gods breathe in the Northern air at Winterfell. Seven Stark children grow, five trueborn, one of another mother, and the last a hostage.  Beautiful Lannister twins shine like yellow stars. They stand above their dwarf brother whose birth killed their mother. One twin is a Queen, the other twin the most formidable knight in the land who guards the King.  Kingslayer, Kingmother.   Three dark Baratheon brothers sit beneath the Stag’s banner: stern, robust and blithe.

Summer is long but…Winter is coming. A long Summer heralds an even longer Winter. Most alive cannot remember and have never seen Winter.

Secret and proud, the love of two siblings grows into a red knot that spreads outward in a bloody stain.  The gods flip a coin when the deposed kings were born—one side for madness, the other for greatness. Often it seems that all is lost.

Aptly named “The Wall”

A young girl, her father and protector beheaded, poses as a poor boy to wend a precarious way home. The Crows guard the North beneath the shadow of a mammoth wall—against what, few know. The world spins and children are flung from their roots. No one is safe. Roads choke with the lawless and delinquent. It is difficult to know who protects what.

King’s bastards abound and are found. Yet one eludes. A small man can prove a tall shadow. Brothels reveal shells of pearls, which are shiny covered sand. The least likely people can prove the most powerful; Some are obliging, others ruthless. Maesters dispense their ancient wisdoms to wary, leery and devoted ears.

 Mama’s Little Darlings

In a fiery grave 3 Dragons are born into a world that believed them extinct. Their orphan mother wills herself to grasp an ancient claim to the throne.

A new flock of crows plod through the barren North of the Wall, a world without color or sun.

Now that the King is buried, his two brothers vie for their right to the throne. The rosy glow of the South radiates on new king, whose maliciousness reveals himself petal by poisonous petal.  A bold woman dares to become a great knight. While the city waits in a fearful hush, the Little Bird perches captive; She is a riddle no one can decode.

The honorable King of the North cannot lose.  To be Iron-born is to be truly bereft.

The Red Witch leads one brother and a wily would-be Queen comes out of the South for a place.  A night of alliance and sound-intent: One will be King of the South and One will be King of the North. But tragedy is inescapable. The bereft knight whispers that a mother is brave with not the bravery of knights—but a worthy bravery nonetheless.

Wildfire lights up the sea and decimates a hostile fleet. Thankful cries ring in the air, “Half-man, Half-man!” A pat of mud is hurled at the new king’s head, symbol of his subjects’ scorn. Tensely, we wait atop the wall for a Victor.

 Evil or just Utterly Frustrated?

Kept cornered below, The Queen is bitter, patting her captive bird between her paws.  A mother’s wisdom: Kings don’t marry for love.  Is a Wildling a friend or foe? Who is the captive, the woman or the Crow?  Some women are viewed by some as a collection of profitable holes.  There is an abundance of bared breasts. This is a lusty story—too bad it’s mostly for + from a man’s point of view.


Magic grows and is readying for return to Westeros.

But on this day…
The Goddess of Mercy has left this land.  The Seven are burned.   Children hang black-charred.   Prostituted women are slung up.

Dragons call for their mother, grow. A foreigner pays his debts with three names. Warlocks and Lords practice their tricks, blinded by a sweet heard and silver hair. The Kingslayer is loosened and the Northern dominoes fall.

We mark the players moving.

Reeling from loss, the red witch whispers to her champion that he’s wrong.  There is still much loss and blood to be borne. Almost everything will be lost.

It’s a small scene, but perhaps the most relevant. It is the prophesy for the future of our heroes. There will be far more than what we can guess now. What seems important now might prove illusion.

Because already, those who are great have been felled.

While…Babes who hide in unused rooms, tree tops, beneath skirts and behind innocent eyes move across the board as well. We’ve had the privilege of watching their hatching onto this game board.

 We’ll get to watch this one grow up

The epic group of books are bound to unfold like a scene where the focus changes as you move across the picture. First, you see what is in the foreground. But then there is a shift and the camera moves into the background. The characters in the front disappear while those who’d been hiding in the shadows resolve. Shift focus, time moving, that which was a seed becomes a giant. We will watch the innocent grow and blossom into their own menaces or protectors, or both.

For now, we will get a new chapter of song. The first half of Book Three will be played for our enjoyment. Pick out your seat early, bring a big glass, and prepare to be beguiled.

I love this: AMOUR (LOVE) Oscar Winner for Best Foreign Language Film 2013

In film, violence has become an accepted drug of choice. Horror films crowd around us, fanged and gruesome. Yet, there is an important place for pain. Pain is integral to life’s ebb and flow, a darkness that lends sweetness to luck and joy and laughter.  Amour offers an acceptance of pain, a cathartic versus violent place. Here lie sweetness and pain, loss and acceptance. This film is a meditative, complex journey into shadow-lands, and one worth taking. 
Love, the 2012 French-language drama film written and directed by the Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke, stars Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva and Isabelle Huppert. 
Select Awards: Palme d'Or, Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film, BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, European Film Award for Best Actor, BFCA Critics' Choice Award for Best Foreign Language Film,  BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Language Film, European Film Award for Best Film, 5 Oscar nominations including best foreign film and – unexpectedly – best picture.

Running time: 127 minutes

Grey, the grey of parchment skin. Grey of sameness, the sheer roll of days. Grey that is left when color slides away, the grey that sneaks onto the body slowly, into eyebrows, into arm hairs, leg and finger and beard hair. And eyes. Grey dawning upon the surface, a gradual ice age. While below the grey routs itself into every passage, every path, brain, vein, nerve. Grey brittling and freezing.

Color submerges, becomes hidden. Color is painted over. But color resists attack and endures. Every heart beat pumps gorgeous living color so that a person continues to live another day, to love, to read books, to hear symphonies, to laugh.

Our fragile human bodies. But love, amour, is the strongest substance we can know.

I’ve heard many points of view about this film. Some elders in my life tell me that to them the story is nothing special; they know all about it. My husband found the intimate view into aging difficult. Myself, I was taken, enthralled.

The conflict between fragile and resilient anchors the story of Georges and Anne, a married couple in their eighties who live a well-trodden, steadfast middle class existence in Paris. Now retired, they once enjoyed long careers as musicians and music teachers. Within the confines of their apartment we watch Anne’s decline due to a stroke. Their family consists of one grown daughter and her family, whom we barely see. We follow Georges, resolute and constant until the inevitable end.

The depiction of aging, decline, and illness is difficult on several levels. It’s ugly, painful, scary, embarrassing, and very private. Hidden. Locked behind closed doors. Georges tries that with his daughter, barring her from his mother’s room. But he fails. The film is too bent on revelation.

Revelation lifted up. Revelation at its basest.

When I was in film school I was preoccupied with the bittersweet, the quiet. I needed to explore how love and pain mix. Some of my favorite films were: The Conformist, Tokyo Story, Wings of Desire, Hiroshima Mon Amour.

If you’ve seen Amour and done your homework into the background of the cast, you know where I’m going with this. As I viewed Amour, the age of the actors and my horrible memory of names obscured the facts from me. Only afterward did I discover to my delight that the two elderly actors were once among my favorite. Perhaps more importantly, they were also favored in the storied halls of French and European Cinema. Jean-Louis Trintignant helmed several great, acclaimed films including The Conformist (La Conformista [Italian]) and Emmanuelle Riva graced dozens of French films including the New Wave, extraordinary Hiroshima, Mon Amour.

Each actor was once touted and feted for their panache, their beauty, their flair. And here they are in their twilight, obscured by the webbing on their skin and the bending of their bodies. Yet, despite all of this, this pair remains beautiful, skilled—perhaps more now than ever.

Once long-limbed and solid, Emmanuelle Riva embodies a shrunken marked Anne. Yet time-tempered pride of a master musician and teacher stiffens, lifts her spine. Her sharp cheekbones jut tantalizing. One wonders how they sat in a younger face.

Beneath overgrown brows a spark of debonair, flashing eyes remains in Jean-Louis Trintignant’s Georges. A tender gaze hints at a once passionate and loving man.

Among the handful of critically acclaimed films Michael Haneke has made, I’ve only seen Cache, which I loved, and I saw the connection between the two films immediately. Each is notable for their intensive view into bourgeois French family life. Yet while Cache was clinical and chilling, Amour bestows a gentler tone. Color and connection. A quiet well of emotion flowing, accessible, beneath the surface of polite French living.

Breakfast in the unfussy kitchen at an old wooden table. An empty hallway and an open window. High doorways into warm pocket rooms. Leg exercises. An old sink. Books read in bed. The water delivery. Crammed book shelves. Learning how to steer a wheelchair. Lips and hand curling into themselves. Gibberish. And then the word “pain” yelled, moaned, cried, “Mal!” Whispered: Pain.

If this film were a song it would bequeath quiet sustained notes that pulse into passionate peaks, then down low again lingering and extended. Repetitive. But calm and rhythmic. Constant.

Watching Amour, we see love as the title Amour suggests. We wonder at the ways of love. Haneke stretches ways of loving to the borders. With this love of Anne and Georges he colors love grey as well as red, pale as well as robust.

In many ways Amour is a documentary. The study of what happens to a family in a set of rooms could be set anywhere and—done right—it would be riveting. Luckily, a single culture—in this case French—in all of its interaction and nuance is portrayed with stunning depth in this film. A million tiny details are conveyed. We are offered thousands of particulars and minutiae inside the couple’s apartment walls.

We also are invited to peer into comings and goings from the outside: Who helps, who is absent; who calls and what they say; who visits and who is absent. We see what people send and bring and who works doing what: The young nurses, the unsettled student, the invisible grandchildren. These pieces form a complex and thorough microcosm of modern French society.

This is a most cushioned, a most comfortable haven, as solid and settled as a life could be. Every floor board, cushioned chair, paneled doorway, breakfast repast, and landscape painting is lovingly painted into the two hours. Stroke upon stroke piles onto the canvas of this long married life.

In film, violence has become an accepted drug of choice. Horror films crowd around us, fanged and gruesome. Yet, there is an important place for pain. Pain is integral to life’s ebb and flow, a darkness that lends sweetness to luck and joy and laughter.  Amour offers an acceptance of pain, a cathartic versus violent place. Here lie sweetness and pain, loss and acceptance. This film is a meditative, complex journey into shadow-lands, and one worth taking.

Film Review: Django Unchained

There is no excuse for the degradation, drawn-out violence and torture depicted here.

Django Unchained follows the trail of an unlikely pair: a European wanderer cum Western bounty hunter Dr. Schultz, and freed slave Django, whom he takes under his wing. The film travels a long series of Three Acts and for the First Act we primarily follow the pair as they mete out vengeance, kill, pick up bounty, and generally court the edges of what is deemed acceptable and right.

This course highlights two major themes: slavery just before the Civil War, and killing for bounty, creating a gripping tension between right and wrong, ethical and criminal. We watch Schultz free Django—then kill a man in front of his son. These conflicts could serve as very fascinating subject matter.

However, Quentin Tarantino decides to take us in another direction for Acts Two and Three, where slavery takes center stage with smutty, shocking violence. This is a film that not only depicts violence but worships it with loving, doting shots of whippings, lashings, torture, hangings, and constant degradation.  The major actors each show their range and ability to embody characters with reality and depth. Yet, the wrapping of great acting and cinematography cannot and should not deter viewers from seeing this film for what it is: violence pornography.

With Django Unchained, the lure of the shallow, infantile and tacky proved too much for Tarantino and sadly, no one stopped him. He had fertile subject matter; incredible talent; complex characters. He missed a magnificent chance to create a meaningful exploration of his subject matter. Instead, he has merely added to his stockpile of guts and gore that is important more for its sensationalism than brilliance.

The actors gave stellar performances that are worthy of a far superior film.

Jamie Foxx plays Django, whose ignorance belies a fierce genius. He’s a man whose woeful life fuels a burning desire to brandish his talents. We find him as he is freed, then follow his path as he is slowly, turbulently unchained.

Christoph Waltz plays Dr. King Schultz, a most enigmatic foreigner. His passions and reasons are elusive. He is helpful, cold, and above all, inexplicable. His final act in the film is a case in point.

With unerring skill, Leonardo DiCaprio plays Calvin Candie, a decaying Southerner, beautifully made but beneath the skin a vile and vicious bog. He shares this charming distinction with Big Daddy, played with nuanced wit by Don Johnson in a smaller part. During the Big Daddy passage of scenes, the KKK is skewered with skill. These scenes are small treats that point to Tarantino’s talent with dark comedy. Yet they are tiny, easily suffocated beneath a brutal blanket.

Samuel L. Jackson is his nastiest as Stephen, the Slave who ‘takes care of’ Candie, just like men before him took care of Candie men for generations. A superb study of the application of power, Stephen is a fawning, malicious and formidable force.

Then there is Broomhilda, played by Kerry Washington, the slave of a Southern family whose roots are German. Broomhilda, maid to the family daughter, was brought up with refinement and kindness. …And here we come to the “Monsters Ball” paradox again. The black woman as an object. Washington plays the ladies maid as well as the enslaved, degraded woman with dignity and grace. But there she is for us to peruse, in the hot box, having her dress torn from her, living in perpetual terror of being sold, used, pimped, found-out. She could be an empathetic character, but the physical manifestation of her plight is depicted with sickening glee.

Enthusiasts of Tarantino indulgently point to the silliness, the crazy over the top manner of his oeuvre that they find hilarious. Yet this is no “Monty Python’s Holy Grail,” nor even “Pulp Fiction.” Indeed, the lash, the screams, the blood and the pain are vivid. What exactly is there to admire? To laugh at? While there are plenty of ridiculous scenes of bloodshed, most scenes are obscenely realistic. What is so artistic about being great at depicting the most brutal violence? Great technique does not forgive the subject matter’s hyperbolic, admiring view of pain being delivered.

Django can be used, at best, as a portrait in startling colors of a deranged society that cries over gunned-down 6 year olds and then pays to view scenes of morbid, constant cruelty, where the epithet nigger is flung like rounds of verbal machine gunning, as if that were a stab at being realistic on a set where realism is obliterated from Scene One. There is no reality here. This is pure fantasy, a dark and sad fantasy of blatant and open cruelty.

Yes, the history of the slave trade is full of cruelty. This is my point: this film takes that appalling violence and manipulates it to cater to a sickness that sits and pervades many of us, a need and desire for savagery that cannot wait for that next horror or thriller or sci-fi flick—as long as it has guns, knives and blood. That promise that we seem to be begging for: There Will Be Blood.

Can we say of ourselves that as long as an offering into our public consciousness is made with craft, with skill, with talent, that we call it art? Can we say of ourselves that we will continue to push the boundary of what is viewable as long as it has been draped in artistic folds? That is what Django Unchained means to me: another dismal, chilling lowering of inhibitions about what is viewable and what should be watched.

I Love This: Silver Linings Playbook

2hr 0min - Rated R - Comedy

Silver Linings Playbook

Director: David O. Russell – Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Jackie Weaver, Julia Stiles, Chris Tucker, John Ortiz, Anupam Kher, Shea Whigham

(You’ll love this film if you liked I Heart Huckabees, Up in the Air, Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)


Love, rage, patience, unfulfilled potential. Waiting, conflicting voices.

Old-fashioned Mother. Steadfast, supportive, the quiet soul, non-judging, lives for her boys. Only with her tacit consent could these men have evolved as they have. The dominant yet benign father, the do-good successful son, the dark horse held back by others’ spotlight.

Mentally ill. Strange. Unsound. Unbalanced and wrong in the head. Haunted. How often do the gods fill a human mold faultlesslty? How often do our thoughts run and run downward, off kilter, sometimes so distraught there seems no remedy?

Conflicted, un-fittable no matter how they try. White-knuckling for years, children with little souls learning to cope as life turns them into stunned adults.

Two sisters. The one who pushes and gets. The other gets taken.

Female/Male stereotypes wielded like steel batons: Woman harassed by stalking male; the slut everyone taunts but wants to have sex with; the emotionally shut, unintelligible father.  The scenes play out like mini tragicomedies, so familiar, pathetic and wrong and pedestrian. We see them played every day; we play them. Silver Linings Playbook reflects back to us. Why do we hurt others like this?

Tiffany’s too young to be a widow; she cries onto a stranger, wrapping herself futilely around his unyielding form. Patrick Solitano’s reaction is stony, incredulous. Rebuffed, she falls away and walks off, lonesome and tall, shoulders hunched, in her high heels.

Startling, Tiffany darts up to Pat on neighborhood jogs. She yells and pulls. She defies his attempts to cut her from his side; she braves his rejection. Perplexed by this unearned allegiance, he holds his wedding ring high and proud, symbol of safety, of happiness. The gold circle is a life-saver, keeping his precarious mind afloat and tying him to everything he wants and lost: his wife Nikki, job, home.

Once in the steam of an adulterous shower, Pat lost his mind to almost kill a man in jealous rage. He was sent to prison for eight months and when his parole sentence was over, his mother came and released him. He now lives in his childhood home, wrestling demons in the tiny attic. Boxed-up flotsam drifts around his bed as he tries to re-fasten his life. The task: he has to prove himself worthy of the wife he must return to.

Things are complicated. Nikki has a restraining order against Pat. But Tiffany is sister to Veronica, Nikki’s best friend. They cross paths, pass in orbit. Missives are smuggled in by an equally begrudging and willing Tiffany. Patrick writes Nikki a letter, to which she replies. Nikki’s letter promises, show me a sign. Show me that you are fixed. I need you to be no longer fat, no longer muddled and muffled and violent and unrealized. If you can be those things, I can love you, her letter says. Just like he hoped.

Tiffany can help Pat, yet is strained by the magnitude of her own heartache. She is a lost vessel, adrift in a sea of grief, of mis-fit, of rawness that she cannot disguise. We don’t know what she sees in Pat but it’s a doorway in a neighborhood of walls. With reckless yet determined trust, Tiffany offers him a chance to prove his goodness to Nikki by being a friend to her. She convinces him that he can show kindness by partnering her in a dance contest because that is what she asks and what she needs however inconvenient. However unreasonable.

They practice and walk through their private grieving, with parents who don’t know how to help them, in neighborhoods that cannot absorb them. They walk among their friends and families trying to re-fit the pieces that no longer fit or never fit. Patterns of pain and coping are played out, are blown open, sometimes even healed.

Does pain divvy itself up to the ugly and underpaid? Where are brains ribboned with fire born? You might say in the strangest of us, those few who we wish to remain behind white locked walls. Our consciousness recoils from pain, from poverty, from frailty. We’ll do much to cover it, we’ll pay millions of dollars to gloss it, to romance and polish it. Don’t get too sharp; don’t get too close. I’m normal I tell you!

We don’t want to believe that the ability to crack broods somewhere in all of us. There’s too much to lose. Yet we all lose, every day, minute by minute we live with loss and failure, with uncertainty. How many plans are unfulfilled? How many breaths are taken while we struggle, struggle, cope. We think we are losers. We climb towards being winners. Pretend. Cover, do up hair, cinch the belt, speak the rehearsed.

And the universe is laughing at this flimsy ploy. When we witness Tiffany’s aggression and anger, when we watch Patrick unravel, we know that this is us like we know the curve of our fingers, like we know the sound of our voice. We know that this is me, this is who I am when I think no one is watching. Ronnie, Pat’s best friend, reflects our knowing, hiding in his garage despondently shaking his head to Megadeath while he mentally chokes beneath the pressures of his success.

What a gift to look at a creation, a giant screen of pixels such as in this film “Silver Linings Playbook”, a film only loosely adapted from Matthew Quick’s acclaimed 2008 novel. To look and see down, down past skin.

Much of our lives are dominated by ploys to keep us from seeing. Most visual information is gilded surface; promising joy if we just believe in these silky, glossy fabrications.

That woman with the deep vee of pale cleavage, she’s available and yet untouchable. She is successful and yet needs you to complete her. That man with heroic shoulders and shocking blue eyes, his garage houses a sports car, he wants to take you places and he will get you. If you opened a popular magazine featuring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence decked out in their ball-gowns and tux, or rough with grime and scowls, their striking beauty would call out, would ask your eyes to light with admiration.

And that is all. We are discouraged from thought beyond that snapped moment. Advertisers, photographers, sellers want us to live in that moment and live for that moment of beauty, of admiration. Funny though how it is just a moment, simply a short space in time. Then the lights dim, the posing stops and the person walks across the room to get a drink of water, to call a friend, to add an errand to their list. They take a shower and paint sweeps down the drain, jeans are drawn on, socks searched for and pulled up. An eye is scratched. Worries crowd in and the day moves on in its thousands of other minutes that are the overwhelming bulk of life. Yes, Angelina Jolie cries. She butters toast, she changes diapers. Jennifer Lawrence looks fantastic in a bikini. But those hips and that chest house rushing blood and particles of air, that mind holds memories and dreams and fears like every little girl, like every young girl, like every woman, like every person. Beautiful and strange, celebrated and plain, cracked and healed and cracked again. Like all of us.

David O. Russel rocks for finding the means to portray such pathos in a way that we can accept. Tiffany challenges Patrick: Can you forgive yourself? I like that this film allowed me to glimpse my own frailty, my own strangeness, and yes, forgive.

some links: