' Cinema Romantico: Lament of The Football Fan

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Lament of The Football Fan

“Raiders fans like to paint their faces and pretend to be crazy; Eagles fans really are crazy.” – Pro Football Hall of Fame Wide Receiver Michael Irvin 

The first time we are introduced to Pat Solitano Sr. (Robert DeNiro) he is lamenting the fact Andy Reid, head coach of his beloved Philadelphia Eagles, wasted a “challenge” and, thus, cost his team a timeout. It’s funny. I mean, it’s really funny, but it’s hyper-specifically funny – you have to know, I suppose, what a challenge is in American football and you have to know that Andy Reid (disposed as coach since the film’s release) was famous for mis-managing in-game situations and mis-using his “challenges.” It takes a lot of courage to employ a joke half your audience might not even get.


I cannot help but wonder if some of the mixed reaction to parts of “Silver Linings Playbook” – even from critics who generally liked it – stems from the fact you need the perspective of a crazed football fan. This notion crossed my mind when I listened to Slate’s Culture Gabfest in which its triumvirate of Dana Stevens, Julia Turner & David Haglund (subbing for Stephen Metcalf) professed admiration for the film but also professed several hesitations. Haglund, for instance, deemed the relationship between Bradley Cooper’s bi-polar protagonist Pat Solitano Jr. and his therapist as “preposterous.” This is in line with the ever-perturbed Richard Brody of The New Yorker who termed the same relationship as “both silly and downright offensive.” This stems, I think, mostly from the fact that patient and doctor meet in the parking lot of Lincoln Financial Field before an Eagles game and bond and become out-of-office face-painting cohorts.

In his initial two scenes Dr. Patel is portrayed very much as a sensible person…….until the end of the second session when Pat Jr. asks the Doctor if it’s a good idea to wear the jersey of an Eagles player to a dinner date. “What player?” Dr. Patel wants to know. “Desean Jackson,” replies Pat Jr. Dr. Patel’s face and voice modulation don’t really change, per se, but you can sense the most subtle of shifts in his demeanor, imperceptibly puffing out his chest and growing cocksure. He declares: “Desean Jackson is the man.”

(One of the film’s finest throwaway bits involves Jacki Weaver’s mom wearing a Kevin Kolb jersey. If you know football, you know Kolb was the Eagles’ eternal backup quarterback to Donovan McNabb before finally getting his chance to start……until he was knocked out in his first game with a concussion and replaced by Michael Vick who never relenquished his spot. And I can sense that the paternalism of Weaver’s character would have totally been drawn to poor Kolb in his hour of need – hence the jersey. There are a million reasons why, in my opinion, David O. Russell deserved Best Director more than Ang Lee – and the non-nominated Ben Affleck, for that matter – and this is one.)

That’s a key moment because it is when the professional barrier between the two men begins to break down. Perhaps Therapists and Patients do not talk this way – leading to the “preposterous”, “silly” and “downright offensive” claims – but Football Fans do, and that is a muddy line. The question becomes: does Desean Jackson outweigh the Doctoral Degree framed on the wall? In the “real world”, perhaps not, but in the context of the film, the answer is yes. Absolutely.

Dr. Patel.....out of the office.
In the 4th quarter of the Capital One Bowl back on New Year’s Day when it was all beginning to slip away for my beloved Nebraska Cornhusker football team, did I remove my Dejon Gomes (Eric Crouch) jersey and put on my Tommie Frazier jersey in the hopes of – as I like to call it – “conjuring the spirit of Tommie Frazier”? Of course I did. Did it work? Of course it didn’t. Did it make me feel better to make the change anyway? Of course it did. Does this make me crazy? Of course it does.

“Silver Linings Playbook” is not just about clinically diagnosed craziness. It is about how we all, in one way or another, have a little crazy and how it manifests in all sorts of ways. This is why Philadelphia Eagle fandom is such a delicious subplot to include. Football fans are ceaselessly reminded that a grown man with a helmet and shoulder pads should not decide our happiness. We say that it does not. But it does.

Dr. Patel knows he cannot let football intervene in a patient relationship and it intervenes anyway. It intervenes, of course, because Eagles fans are crazy, which is why it makes it complete sense.

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