The positives and negatives in Silver Linings Playbook are so tightly interwoven that it can be difficult to slice them apart. Take, for example, Pat's motto excelsior, a Latin word meaning forever upward. Pat believes he lost the affections of his wife because he was fat and inattentive and maybe even intellectually lazy. To win her back, he's determined to better himself—running relentlessly, reading the books Nikki (an English teacher) is teaching to her students and practicing being more attentive.
We can't fault Pat's drive to improve himself, something all of us we should do more of. Nor can we impugn his motivation: his desire to patch things up with his wife. But in the context of the film, Pat's dedication to excelsior often feels creepy and manic.
We understand that Pat's family loves their difficult son and want what's best for him. His father, Pat Sr., blames himself for Pat's condition: He believes that if he had spent more time with his boy he might be a little more together now. So he tries to make up for lost time using the Eagles as a rallying point. Dolores, Pat's mother and the family's prime point of sanity, takes a big risk to bring her son home, and his psychologist seems genuinely concerned for Pat's well-being too. Friends rally around him. And while Pat at first doesn't appreciate the support he's getting from all corners of his life, he comes to see how lucky—how blessed—he truly is.
Dolores is told that God made her "rich in character," stressing the source of strength she's been for the family. A picture of Jesus hangs on the wall of Pat's family's house. Characters say "Thank God" in at least a halfway serious matter. Pat seems to express belief in divine providence, saying that "everything happens for a reason."
But the main spirituality here is Pat Sr.'s belief in superstitious "juju" that helps his Eagles win games. He has a lucky Eagles handkerchief he rubs. He has lucky TV remotes. When Pat's friend Danny comes for a visit, Pat Sr. plops him down in a lucky seat, forces him to sit in a particularly lucky way and makes him hold a couple of the lucky remotes and the handkerchief just so.
In flashback, Pat follows a trail of clothes to his bathroom and sees (as do we) Nikki nude, from the rear, standing in the shower. As he comes closer, we see that a naked man is with her, giving her oral sex. Nikki is also shown from the side, revealing part of her breast.
Tiffany's a dancer, and she strips off her top after she and Pat have been doing some practicing together. We see her bare back. Her dance outfits reveal cleavage and midriff, and the couple dances provocatively. During a competition, Tiffany's crotch smooshes against Pat's face and head—a scene intended to be more embarrassing than titillating. Some of the other dance competitors wear very skimpy outfits: One seems to be dressed only in stylized black webbing—barely covering critical body parts.
It's a bit of a convoluted story, so suffice it to say that Tiffany links her own lack of sexual interest in her husband to his death. Then she becomes extraordinarily promiscuous after he dies: We learn she was fired after sleeping with all 11 company employees—some of them women. Pat asks her to describe those relationships in detail, and she obliges—later condemning his prurient interest. When she's feeling low and vulnerable, she seeks out sex, telling Pat their first night out that he can have sex with her as long as they keep the lights off. She admits that she was a "slut" (a word others ascribe to her as well), and she embraces that dirty, sleazy side of herself.
Pat shoos away one man whom Tiffany's called when she was lonely. Another man tries to get Tiffany drunk, obviously with less-than-honorable intentions.
All that said, Tiffany and Pat don't do any more than hug and dance together until their climactic dance competition, when they find that they're holding hands. After that they kiss and cuddle.
Pat nearly beats his wife's lover to death, we're told, and in flashback we see snippets of the attack: kicks and punches and blood. At one point it looks like the man is being choked.
Pat struggles with his anger and violent impulses throughout the film. He pulls a magazine rack down in his counselor's waiting room when he hears his old wedding song (which also played when Nikki was with her lover). Nearly unhinged, he rips his house apart, looking for his old wedding tape. He accidentally strikes his mother and gets into a fistfight with his dad. Pat Sr. is left bloody from the encounter, and the next morning both have bruises on their faces.
When Pat and Tiffany get into a verbal fight, Tiffany screams that Pat assaulted her—a lie that attracts the attention of some would-be defenders and a police officer. When Philly fans lob racist insults in the direction of Dr. Patel in a stadium parking lot, Pat's brother and his friends get into a scrum with the miscreants. Pat tries to avoid the fight, but starts throwing punches when he sees his brother being beaten. Pat throws a book through a window. Tiffany slaps Pat.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Pat is supposed to be taking meds to keep his bipolar disorder under control, and the first thing he and Tiffany talk about is the various psychiatric drugs they've been prescribed. Both (at the time) say they refuse to take them, uncomfortable with how the drugs make them feel. Pat is particularly reluctant to take his meds, but when he assaults his parents, he rethinks his position.
Tiffany downs two vodka drinks. She and others drink wine and beer. We hear that Danny had a serious problem with crystal meth and alcohol, and that when he was under the influence he assaulted someone.
Silver Linings Playbook is, in some ways, true to its name: It's a story that seems to have some hidden benefits. In Pat and Tiffany, we're given two hurting people who need each other and grow to love each other. Through their awkward, often sweet romance, we see them heal and grow. Their relationship forms a strange catalyst that helps smooth over old family wounds and conflicts, too, and by the time the credits roll almost everyone is much happier, healthier and optimistic about their shared futures.
But here's the thing about silver linings: They're always in the company of clouds.
Pat and Tiffany's first: On one hand, they seem built for each other. On the other, the foundation of their relationship is stacked on top of mutual deception, not to mention Pat's rebounding emotions after his wife cheats on him.
Now for Pat and Pat Sr.'s: Pops undeniably cares for his son, but the bond they share is rooted in an obsession with luck and gambling. It looks as though Pat Sr. is finally going to emerge from the financial gloom he's been in … thanks to an incredibly ill-advised bet that was enabled by his son and his son's girlfriend. And that merely obscures the fact that Pat Sr. has a serious gambling problem.
So the happy endings we're encouraged to root for here feel, if given a bit of perspective, tentative at best, and damaging at worst.
Adding to this stormy horizon are the movie's thunderous language and sexual situations, along with the myriad lightning-fast ways in which Pat does and might lose his cool.