We live in such an information saturated age now that blogs regularly treat casting announcements for movies that might never get made as news. While I get why those stories appeal to people, 95% of the time I don’t have any interest in contemplating unreleased movies or potentially different versions of already released movies. Still… there is that 5% where even I have to ask “what if?”
Silver Linings Playbook is about two mentally ill people who team up to enter a dance contest together and end up falling in love. The male part, a character named Pat, is played by Bradley Cooper, and he does a good job of making the character likeable even when he’s being uncontrollably manic. The female part, a character named Tiffany, is played by Jennifer Lawrence, and she who won an Oscar for the role. Lawrence isn’t bad in the part, per se, but I do have to wonder what the movie would have been like if they had cast someone else.
I’m thinking of a specific person when I say “someone else”. There was an episode of the Doug Loves Movies podcast where comedian Sarah Silverman said that after she got the Silver Linings Playbook script she had campaigned hard for the Tiffany part. She saw herself on every page: when she was younger she had been prone to periods of deep depression, she’d also made the mistake of sleeping with too many people, and she also had an internal strength that helped her cope with her problems and recover from her mistakes. Unfortunately, Sarah Silverman isn’t as big of a name as Jennifer Lawrence is, so she didn’t get the role.
The reason why that switch is so tantalizing to me is that it would solve two of the three biggest problems with Silver Linings Playbook. (The fact that the movie wants to end on a happy note when mental illness sort of precludes happy endings is a problem for a different essay.) For one, it would solve the age problem – Silverman is nearly twenty years older than Lawrence, so she would be a more natural fit for the character of Tiffany, who has already been widowed, and who is going to be flirting with Cooper, who is also nearing forty. It’s not that it’s impossible to imagine a woman in her early 20s being widowed, and I’m sure a great many very young woman have flirted with middle aged men, but if they had cast an older woman as Tiffany the whole movie would have been a lot more immediately plausible.
Secondly, if they had cast Silverman instead of Lawrence they would have had an actress with natural reserves of sadness playing a depressive, instead of what they got, which is a naturally goofy person playing dress-up as a mentally ill person. Again, I don’t necessarily think that Lawrence is bad in the role, but she just isn’t a natural fit for the part. While the other actors give naturalistic performances, Lawrence’s performance is a little more over the top and I think a large part of that is because she’s too young to have had the sort of hard life that Tiffany has had, and she isn’t naturally like Tiffany, so she’s kind of guessing at what that sort of misery would look like. If they had cast an older actress - especially one that had the same troubles that Tiffany did - it would be helped synchronize the two lead performances.
Of course, Silverman didn’t get the part and Lawrence did, so I understand that it is a moot point. But Silver Linings Playbook is so consistently close to – and yet ultimately so far away from – greatness that I found myself mentally tweaking little elements of nearly every scene as I watched it, even though I know it is pointless to do so. It’s just frustrating that the script contained a well written part; that they cast a very talented actress; that she gave the best performance she could give, deploying an ungodly amount of charisma every time she’s on screen; and yet, the movie is still short of being as good as it could have been. But then again, this a movie about people who handicap themselves by making crazy decisions and whose best hope at the end of the day is to be good enough, so maybe it’s fitting that the filmmakers made a crazy decision and ended up being just good enough.