Robert DeNiro’s character in “Silver Linings Playbook” can’t get over it.
Monday Night Football, Sept. 15, 2008: Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Desean Jackson blazed passed the Dallas Cowboys defense and caught a bomb off the cannon arm of quarterback Donovan McNabb. Jackson, a rookie, was sprinting toward his first NFL touchdown. As he closed in to score, he tossed the ball and launched into a celebratory dance consisting of air humps synchronized with disco-dance pointing. Problem was, he’d flipped away the ball before completely crossing the goal line. Referees reviewed the play and decided it was a fumble, not a touchdown.
“Silver Linings Playbook” is about forgiveness and family and friendship and real (enough) anger. It’s also about die-hard NFL football fans, with their irrationality, superstitions and tendency to get loud or worse after several beers.
DeNiro plays Pat Sr. Bradley Cooper plays Pat Jr., who moves in with his parents after his release following an eight-month stint in a mental institution. Pat Sr. worries over his son, wants him to bounce back from his breakdown and finally be happy.
With tears in his eyes, Pat Sr. actually tells Pat Jr. he wants to spend time with him, and the Eagles can make that happen. He thinks if they could sit down in front of an Eagles games, a shared interest might blossom into deeper father-son discussion. He wants his son to open up, but Pat Sr. is no good at initiating the conversation. He needs some thing to bring them together. Football can be that thing.
In this great performance DeNiro personifies football fandom’s essence. Some sports fans don’t even know it, but they root for these teams because it helps compensate for lousy social skills. Our (totally human) neuroses necessitate an ice breaker. Get into a sports team and you’ve begun to share something with your family and friends and a community of likable, generous strangers who wear the same colors and hoot with joy in unison over scores. It becomes important. It becomes maybe even more important than it should be, but why judge?
“Silver Linings Playbook” is full of characters who could be considered crazy. Pat Jr. has a friend who says family and work make him feel like he’s choking. Jennifer Lawrence’s character Tiffany is a widow who slept around after her husband died. There’s talk of anxiety meds, and how to calm down in moments when life gets overwhelming and claustrophobic.
These characters are crazy, almost literally. They’re also just like a lot of us. Being crazy is all right, so so is painting half your face to go tailgating. And so is wearing a favorite player’s jersey. When Pat Jr. gets invited to a friend’s house for dinner, he accepts but feels uncomfortable about it. He helps ease his anxiety by wearing his Eagles jersey. It’s DeSean Jackson’s, with the number 10.
“DeSean Jackson is the man,” Pat Jr.’s therapist tells him. Pat Sr.’s a fan too, of course, but he mentions, repeatedly, that fumble on the one-yard line. At one point he is arguing about something important with his son, who’s wearing the jersey, and throws in “And how could you fumble on the one yard line!?”
“DeSean Jackson is the man.” Hell yeah he is. He’s fast and tough and can bust huge, awesome touchdowns. But he also spiked the ball before he scored and started air-hump disco dancing in the end zone. The Eagles scored on the next play, but it was still such a stupid thing to do. A stupid, weird, totally human thing to do.