In a piece called “Dr. Feelgood — The Case for Silver Linings To Win Best Picture,” Awards Daily‘s Sasha Stone offers her usual sage analysis along with a dab or two of historical perspective. But her core feelings about David O. Russell‘s antsy-brilliant screwball comedy overpower any pretense at neutrality. Her description of Silver Linings as “the little movie that could, can and does make people feel good” is an old and familiar tactic known as “patronizing with faint praise.”
Stone’s obvious point is that while credit may be due to a highly intelligent, well-crafted piece like Silver Linings, there are few things lamer than a movie that wants to make audiences feel blissed out. Films like this are fine, but they don’t belong at the grown-up’s table. So forget the dark undertows and serious threats that permeate every corner of Silver Linings — the manic mindsets, mental instabilities, emotional woundings, meds, traumas, face-slaps and fistfights. And forget the grounded performances, the skillfully woven ensemble acting and high-throttle narrative drive, Stone is more or less saying. For this is essentially a winky-dinky happy thing with green face paint (i.e., the Philadelphia Eagles version of Clarabelle-the-clown makeup) trying to give you a nice back rub.
And some of you, Stone is implying — the less wise or perceptive, the more emotionallly susceptible, the simplistic of mind, the comfort-seekers, the easy lays — love this confection like you loved your little comfort blanky when you were 18 months old. And that’s fine as far as it goes, she adds. But a film has to do more than just dispense feel-good vibes to win the Best Picture Oscar. If the Silver Linings recipe tickles your fancy, great. But sit at that little fold-up card table over there. The one with the little stools and paper plates and crayons and drawing paper and the little coffee-cup saucers with complimentary dosages of Klonopin and Trazadone.
Understand this: the real lame-itude is dismissing or marginalizing a film because it’s buoyant and screwball-intense and furiously spirited and is all about want and need and dealing with recognizable demons, and is therefore not the equal of more steadily (or more slowly) paced solemn-attitude Best Picture contenders that are about real pain, real loss and are therefore truly serious.
What could be more momentous than patiently and strategically bringing about the end of slavery with Janusz Kaminski‘s Close Encounters of the Third Kind-like white light flooding through the windows? What could be more fundamentally rooted and universally appealing than a smart, satisfying caper film about hoodwinking the Iranian Islamics of 1979 and ’80 into believing that a group of American embassy workers are filmmakers? And what can reach deeper into our souls and make us understand what truly matters than a musical about the cruel inequality inflicted upon the suffering poor in early 1800s France?
Stone excerpt: “At the helm of the Silver Linings Oscar effort is Lisa Taback, maybe the most savvy of all Oscar strategists, who knows the Academy better than they know themselves. A film only needs to be perceived as the underdog to make audiences and voters want to root for it because they root so hard for the scrappy characters. This worked last year and it worked the year before and it worked for Slumdog Millionaire on top of that, and it could very well work again this year.
“The best thing that can happen to this movie is to repeat last year and the year before — Oscar pundits, save Fandango’s Dave Karger and Jeff Wells, are underestimating it. If it were number one across the board it would have a harder time being perceived as the scrappy underdog. Slumdog is the model for this type of Oscar win: the little movie that could, can and does makes people feel good.”