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Music: The Heart of Silver Linings Playbook

Films about mental illness usually tend to be dreary and depressing which tend to make you want to stop watching and lay down for a couple of days. However, David O’Russells film Silver Linings Playbook, takes a serious subject matter and turns the drama genre to make an upbeat and inspiring film. There are several reasons why the film manages to be lively despite all the drama. Humor, obviously, was a major component. David O’Russell, as an auteur, has regularly incorporated comedy into his films, making “dramedy movies’ his style. However, there is a major component of the film that is not recognized and is just as important as the humor, the plot, or the music. Whether diegetic or non-diegetic, the entire score and soundtrack show the turbulent emotions of the characters, mainly Pat Solatano’s. Just like Pat’s own life, there are dramatic shifts but, throughout the film, the music manages to capture the theme of a Silver Lining.  

Something I noticed quickly was the varying use of music in the film. Not much music is used in the background when there are characters exchanging dialogue. The music is used to show the mood of a character when they are not speaking. Pat’s wedding song, My Cherie Amour by Stevie Wonder, represents love for some people. However, for Pat, the song represents anger and stress. Due to the song being associated with Nikki and the incident when she cheated on Pat with the history teacher, the song has developed into a trigger. When the song is played, like in the therapist’s office, all other sounds fade away and all Pat hears is My Cherie Amour getting louder. This results in him breaking things, not being able to focus, and not finding the right thing to say. The wedding song is also associated with stressful situations, like when Tiffany screams at him in public causing people to harass him. Again, the same symptoms of stress and paranoia as the one in the therapist's office appeared in this mental episode. All other sounds fade away as the camera makes Pat’s perspective distorted.

But, in this instance, Tiffany is the one to calm Pat down despite being the primary cause of it. This moment is one of the many moments that solidify their growing relationship because Tiffany manages to calm Pat down just by her presence and her assurance of how the song is just a song. Tiffany is slowly taking over Nikki’s place, even if Pat was not aware of it then. After this scene, My Cherie Amour never appears again. 

Tiffany and Pat’s relationship is complicated. Due to their mental illnesses, they do not seem like the most compatible or stable pair. After their first meeting in the film, Tiffany slaps Pat for making a comment about her dead husband and leaves him speechless by her driveway. What Is and What Should Never Be by Led Zeppelin starts playing during this scene and their tumultuous relationship is represented by this rock song. There is a lot of anger from Tiffany when she slaps Pat than the anger transitions to Pat and his mental breakdown in his house. The song continues and slowly builds up in volume as Pat becomes more frustrated when he tries to find his wedding video. Upon my second viewing of the film, I realized that Pat was so confused by his developing feelings for Tiffany, that he is desperately looked to regain his feelings for Nikki. Falling in love with Tiffany is confusing for him because he spent so much time trying to prove himself to Nikki. Thus, when he cannot watch his wedding video he loses control completely. The song abruptly stops and his episode is over when Pat accidentally elbows his mom in the face. 

As Tiffany and Pat become friends through their dance competition/letter to Nikki deal, their relationship starts to develop. The more time they spend together, the more they fall in love. The only montage sequence of the film has the song Girl from the North Country by Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash playing in the background as time passes. As the song plays, their dance movements become more polished as they start to become more comfortable with each other. The song has a romantic theme portrayed with lyrics like “She once was a true love of mine”, which could relate to Nikki and Pat’s previous love for her. Then, Pat struggles with his feelings towards Tiffany, when he sees her half-naked through the mirror. He literally runs away from his feelings and lays in his bed looking confused. It seems like Pat doesn’t know what he is doing because he initially thought he was participating in the dance competition to send letters to Nikki, but in the process, he developed strong feelings for Tiffany. 

Clearly, Tiffany and Pat have no idea what they are doing when they are preparing for the dance competition. This is evident, when Danny shows up and gives them tips on how to spice up their dance routine. When Tiffany was choosing the music, she chose the safe choice by using a salsa song, Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing by Stevie Wonder. They are even dancing in a simple yet basic style. However, when Danny shows up he immediately switches the music and the dances to fit their personalities. A rock song, Silver Lining by Jessie J starts to play as the three individuals start to bounce around to the music. Danny wanted them to show their personalities to fit their dance, he didn’t want them to just conform to the dance competitions standards. His advice is used when they use a White Stripes song and bang their heads like they are at a rock concert and not in a professional dance competition. Even though their dancing was not the best, they still showed their personality, which was what probably got them a perfect 5.0. 

Rock music seems to be O’Russell’s favorite genre considering how many times he used it. This music is appropriate due to Pat’s aggressive nature and his love for rock. One of the stand-out lines for me was when Pat blurts out “Can you play ‘Ride The Lightning’ by Metallica”, possibly because rock music didn’t seem to belong in Veronica’s perfect house. However, Pat isn’t the only one who has a love for rock music. Ronnie regularly mentions that he is stressed out by life, his baby, and his marriage. In another instance of music representing a character’s feelings, Ronnie states that he likes to listen to West Side Story to feel calm. But when Veronica and life is pressuring him, he listens to Metallica in the garage and starts to break shit. This makes me question if Ronnie is the best character to give Pat advice since he too is having problems with his own life and marriage. 

Despite all the problems Pat may have, one of the more commendable traits he has is that he wants to change. He shows this by running every day, reading books, and maintaining a positive outlook on life. One of the songs created for the film, Always Alright by Alabama Shakes, is a perfect theme song for Pat when he is at his best. When he goes on his first run in the movie, the song starts to play. Although he is looking for Nikki, he is well-intentioned to fix things that he messed up before he went to Baltimore Hospital. He first goes and visits the high school and when the scared, old colleague of his says he looks good and is doing better, he immediately takes that as a Silver Lining. He then goes to Ronnie’s house and gets invited to have dinner. As the song states “We’re always alright”, at that moment, he sees all the opportunities that lie ahead in his future life if he embraces the changes he has made in his life. However, he does not realize that Nikki should not be a part of his future, due to the pain she caused him. So, when he goes home and starts to talk about how Nikki might be at Veronica’s dinner, he gets into a small fight with his father over the phone. Due to this, the police show up with his restraining order during which, the music fades away and he is back in his dreary reality.  

Despite all the family craziness, mental illness issues, and irresponsible bets made by Randy, Silver Linings Playbook shows that there is always light in the darkness. Typically, humor is used to transition movies out of dramatic scenes, and this happens in this film. However, the beating heart of this story is the film’s soundtrack. In a typical film, there are only three types of sound; music, dialogue, and sound effects. The dialogue and music are separated to be able to show the emotions of the characters in two different ways. Obviously, the typical way is with words where the characters can say exactly what they mean. However, when characters cannot find the right words to express their feelings or are feeling stressed out, as with Pat, music is their way of expressing themselves.

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Tags: #music #RobertDeNiro #BradleyCopper #JenniferLawerence #SilverLiningsPlaybook #movie


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