It is arguably one of the more memorable moments in any film last year, a moment that juxtaposes seeming failure and unbelievable success. In the final act of writer-director David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, two characters, Pat and Tiffany – two friends helping each other out while at the same time serving as vessels to help Pat’s father – finish their eccentric, offbeat dance as part of a local pairs dance competition.
Pat and Tiffany, by all counts, are not pros. “Pat’s a beginner, I’m okay, we’re happy just to be going there.” They have fun with the dance, but falter at the end in a cringe-inducing yet riotous misstep.
If you’ve seen Dirty Dancing, you know what Pat and Tiffany were attempting: that romantic and oft-copied lift, where the girl trots across the stage and leaps into the air, her body planked as the guy holds her up by her hips. The successful lift was featured most recently in 2011’s Crazy, Stupid, Love, with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as the dancers. Suffice to say, it was pulled off far more gracefully in that film than in Silver Linings Playbook.
The pair botch the big move, Pat stumbling around the dance floor with Tiffany’s crotch shoved in his face, legs draped over his shoulders, face fraught with embarrassment.
When Pat puts Tiffany down, the two know they’ve erred. But they finish the dance and take their spot aside the judges’ table, awaiting their scores, nervous yet hopelessly optimistic. The announcer relays the scores as revealed by each judge.
“We have a four-point-nine, four-eight, a four-nine, and a five-point-four. For an average score of…”
Two fellow competitors offer sympathetic condolences. Pat and Tiffany’s mouths go agape, in disbelief. The room remains mostly silent, apart from a few claps, until Pat raises a fist and Tiffany throws her arms into the air, realizing they have just successfully accomplished their goal.
What ensue are several loud screams and cheering and hugs all around, with the exception of Pat Sr.’s friend Randy, who stands nearby in anguish, shocked at how the evening’s events unfolded.
And then, the announcer, confused, interjects. “Why are they so excited about a five?”
There is one short, simple answer to his inquiry. Earlier in the film, after Pat and his brother Jake return home from an Eagles game, their father is irate. Not only did Pat Sr.’s Eagles lose to the rival Giants, he has just lost a lot of money to Randy, money he intended to use to start a cheesesteak restaurant. Now that dream appears gone.
That is, until Tiffany steps in.
After a rousing scene wherein she indicts Pat Sr. for sending Pat to the Eagles game instead of letting him practice with her, Tiffany persuades Randy to give Pat Sr. one more chance. The two agree to a double-or-nothing bet, but with a catch – or in betting terms, a parlay: in order for Pat Sr. to win, not only must the Eagles defeat the Cowboys, Pat and Tiffany must receive a score of five from the four judges in a local dance contest.
A score of five means that Pat Sr., with the aid of his beloved Eagles and the zany dancing of Tiffany and Pat, has won the bet, earning back the vast sum of money he lost weeks earlier and effectively allowing him to open the restaurant he dreams of running.
But the overall excitement of Pat and Tiffany and those close to them – Pat’s father, his mother Dolores, brother Jake, pals Danny and Ronnie, and therapist Dr. Patel, as well as Tiffany’s own parents and her sister (and Ronnie’s wife), Veronica – runs far deeper than winning a bet.
At the beginning of the film, we are welcomed into Pat’s life. He has just been released from a Baltimore mental health facility, miles from his hometown, Philadelphia. When he returns home after 8 months of confinement, life is different than when he left.
His recently estranged wife, Nikki, has a restraining order against him. He has lost his job, and his phone – “they won’t let me make any calls,” he tells his friend Ronnie. “They think I’m going to call Nikki.”
The picture of him that once hung in the entranceway of his parents’ home now rests on the table below, perhaps an indication of his parents’ disappointment in the downward route his life has ventured. He prefers exercise and reading to a regimen of daily drugs that make him both foggy and bloated. He thinks he can manage his emotions alone.
Pat has a new outlook on life. “You have to do everything you can, you have to work your hardest, and if you do, if you stay positive, you have a shot at a silver lining.” But even so, Pat remains unable, at first, to cope with his changed circumstances.
His trigger – “My Cherie Amour” by Stevie Wonder, the song that was playing when he walked in on his wife cheating on him, leading Pat to a violent incident and his subsequent stay at the Baltimore facility – still troubles and haunts him. And though he reads many books, and works out each day, he does so not to better himself as a man, but instead to make himself a better fit for Nikki, molding himself to the ideal he believes Nikki desires and deserves.
Pat’s life is quickly thrown for a loop when he meets the equally troubled Tiffany, a recently widowed woman struggling with her own demons and mental health issues. Though their chemistry is apparent from the outset, Pat is set on winning back his wife.
“I’m not flirting with you,” he tells Tiffany, after letting her know she looks nice. “I just see that you made an effort and I’m going to be better with my wife, I’m working on that. I want to acknowledge her beauty.”
Much like Pat, Tiffany’s life, too, has recently been turned upside down.
Tiffany’s husband Tommy, a local police officer, was killed in an accident while helping a stranded motorist, just a short while after leaving the mall with a bag of lingerie in hopes of rekindling their faint romantic flame. This leaves Tiffany to pick up the pieces, with the help of therapy, meds, and a multitude of men looking to take advantage of a pretty, young, inconsolable woman.
We can see she is still learning to cope with her recent loss when Pat walks her home from a dinner they both had with his friend Ronnie and Ronnie’s wife, Veronica, Tiffany’s older sister.
As Pat and Tiffany arrive outside her house, Tiffany makes an advance on Pat. “I hate the fact that you wore a football jersey to dinner because I hate football, but you can fuck me if you turn the lights off, okay?” Tiffany is lonely, a bird with a fractured wing yearning to find some semblance of companionship wherever she can get it.
Despite Pat’s hesitance to make nice with Tiffany – “she’s a loyal married-to-a-dead-guy slut” – the pair soon become friends, thanks to a nugget of advice from Pat’s therapist, Dr. Patel: perhaps Pat can use his new acquaintance to prove to Nikki that he is large-hearted and compassionate. The ultimate goal, of course, is Pat’s ability to show Nikki that he is better so they may reconnect.
Throughout the course of the film, though, both Pat and Tiffany suffer setbacks.
After dinner at Ronnie’s, Pat has a breakdown, causing his entire neighborhood to wake up in his quest to find his wedding video. Pat’s parents try to calm him down, but he won’t have it, and he accidentally elbows his mother Dolores in the nose, causing Pat Sr. to launch into a fist-fueled tirade. A local police officer assigned to Pat’s case is called over, and must write a report to add to Pat’s file, which Nikki will inevitably see.
And later, when Pat upsets Tiffany at a local diner by explaining that he hopes he isn’t compared to her, he chases her down the street. Tiffany releases her anger on him outside a movie theater. Caught in the moment, the walls of people closing in, Pat hears “My Cherie Amour,” and his case officer arrives to ensure there’s no public danger.
Tiffany, as we see early on, takes more ownership of her problems than does Pat – “There’s always going to be a part of me that’s sloppy, and dirty, but I like that” – but continues on occasion to seek men to fill the void in her life. Pat thwarts one of these men in his attempt when he shows up at Tiffany’s to hand off a letter for Nikki.
Despite these setbacks, Pat and Tiffany grow and recover with the help of one another. The two establish a working relationship, wherein Tiffany helps Pat deliver the letter to Nikki, and Pat helps Tiffany by serving as her dance partner so she may compete in an upcoming competition.
But what Pat soon realizes is that in helping Tiffany, he helps himself.
Dancing makes Pat disciplined and focused, and provides him with a sense of purpose and direction, a distinct goal for which he can strive. And even more so, though he doesn’t understand it at the time, it allows him to move past the events leading to his confinement, his failed marriage, and lets him become a new man, freed from the trappings of his mind and his disorder.
In competing at the dance and scoring a five, Pat and Tiffany have overcome the obstacles that once stood before them. Pat’s severe mental instability, his mood swings and breakdowns. Tiffany’s damaging depression, her manic thoughts and insecurities.
And each of those involved in the lives of Pat and Tiffany – Pat Sr. and Dolores, Jake, Danny, Tiffany’s parents, Ronnie and Veronica, Dr. Patel – have a vested interest in their well being. They are the fans who root for them in both good times and bad, yearning to see them find joy and purpose in life. So it’s no wonder the excitement strewn about the lot of them when Pat and Tiffany’s scores are announced.
Dancing together in the pairs competition allows Pat and Tiffany to fully realize their new selves, to make discoveries and grow as people.
Pat has found a light at the end of the tunnel, a ray of sun that peaks through the clouds that once cast a heavy shadow over his life. Tiffany no longer seeks solace in the arms of men but rather finds comfort in being herself.
Pat and Tiffany are in love, but more importantly, they are happy.
A true silver lining.