' ' Cinema Romantico: Countdown to the Oscars: Silver & Gold

Friday, February 22, 2013

Countdown to the Oscars: Silver & Gold

Charlie (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Miranda (Evan Rachel Wood) are in the midst of a pre-dawn break-in to attempt to dig up a 14th century cache of gold buried by a Spanish explorer beneath the cement floor of a Costco in California's Santa Clarita Valley. Their pal Pepper (Willis Burks II) stands watch outside. When police potentially close in, Pepper leads them on a turtle-like wild goose chase to draw them away from the ginormous retail store. Eventually his motorcycle runs out of gas, cops surround him, he lays in the road and awaits the inevitable arrest. But then something catches his eye – it is the moon, full as can be, “Moonstruck”-ish, in the glorious nighttime California sky. He smiles. He exclaims: “Damn.”

Even at Pepper's worst moment, about to be handcuffed and lugged off to jail, he still finds a silver (mooned) lining.

I have been thinking a lot about the under-seen, under-loved 2007 film “King of California” recently because of how much I loved 2012’s “Silver Linings Playbook.” This is primarily because both films employ the same jumping-off point – namely, mental illness. Both films open with their male protagonist – Douglas’s Charlie and Bradley Cooper’s Pat, respectively – being released, perhaps unwisely, from a mental facility. Both films involve a female – Charlie’s daughter, Wood’s Miranda and Jennifer Lawrence’s Tiffany, respectively – being re-drawn or drawn into the male’s orbit. Both films include glimpses of the dark past – Charlie’s suicide attempt, Pat nearly beating to death the man with whom his wife was having an affair – but make it their overall goal instead to - quoting Juno MacGuff's mom - "find a precious blessing from Jesus in this garbage dump of a situation."

“King of California” admittedly takes its blessing to a grandly absurd height, transforming its father and daughter duo into a couple of latter day conquistadors as they mortgage their home to scrape together the cash to parade about a chain restaurant and retail store dotted landscape on the hunt for buried treasure. “Silver Linings Playbook” contains more day-to-day realism, to be sure, but even so its ultimate resolution involves a dance competition that purposely strikes its character as Crazies In Arms (as opposed to its forebearer, “Babes In Arms”).

Can you really “Dance through all your fears”? Well, no. You can’t, just as X doesn’t mark the spot (especially if the X itself has been wiped away by the cleaning crew). But then neither film yearns to be a bi-polar docudrama. Consider, say, last year's masterful "Beginners", a film which opens with Ewan McGregor's cleaning out the home of his father (Christopher Plummer) who has just passed after being ravaged by cancer. But then "Beginners" is not meant as a sobering rendition of what that dreadful disease can do, even if there are occasional glimpses of its effects. Rather, it displays an elegant defiance, showing more of the good days than bad, demonstrating, as the title implies, that even with the end near a person can begin again and make of their last breaths what they will.

One of "Beginners" best bits is how Plummer's Hal tells friends his condition is improving ("we're turning the corner on this thing") when, in reality, he's getting worse. If he tells them he's getting worse then they will waste time fretting about what he can do to get better when, hey, everything that can be done to make him better is already being done. But people are so desperate for him to overcome the cancer, right? It's not unlike how people might watch "King of California" and "Silver Linings Playbook" and be desperate for Charlie and Pat and Tiffany to overcome their mental illness. And therein lies the problem.

"King of California" is not about Charlie overcoming his mental illness and never seeks to claim that he does (or is even trying to) overcome it. Instead the film, by exclusively focusing on its quirkily old-fashioned expedition, reveals itself as one of the most touching, though offbeat, demonstrations of father/daughter love at the movies in recent years. Douglas smartly plays Charlie as having accepted his abnormalities and Wood smartly plays Miranda as someone still trying to accept his abnormalities. In the end, he finally recognizes her self-sacrifice and he recognizes his - that is, improbably digging up the legendary treasure, leaving it to his daughter and then vanishing, with the authorities inevitably hot on his heels, back into the mystical underground river, as if he has made peace with his own state of mind and is finally content to be alone with it.

At the same time, "Silver Linings Playbook" never claims that Pat and Tiffany have conquered their problems. In fact, it never claims that any of this Philly crew have conquered their problems. Colin Covert of the Minneapolis Star Tribune writes: "'Silver Linings Playbook' tells us that happily-ever-after may depend on finding people who coexist with our lunacy, not ones who can lead us out of it." The dance competition merely works to crystallize Covert's argument, and it is in this moment that Pat and Tiffany and the whole rest of the gang set aside their squabbling and reach some sort of untraditional level of acceptance.

Sometimes you find a silver lining in a moon in the sky like a big pizza pie, sometimes you find a silver lining in cuttin' a rug and sometimes you find the silver lining is golden hued.

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