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Crystal Downing

The Real Thing

Or, Anna Karenina's Silver Linings Playbook.

Changing partners as quickly as bed sheets, a film character finally discovers true love, proclaiming, "This is the real thing." Cinema feeds (on) such fantasy, explaining the reception given two recent films, one generally overlooked, the other highly acclaimed.

The latter, Silver Linings Playbook, focuses on Pat, released from a mental health facility after injuring his wife's lover, and Tiffany, battling a sex addiction in response to the death of her husband. They meet, annoy each other, and fall in love while rehearsing for a dance competition. Charmingly, the film subverts the cliché whereby protagonists overcome all odds to win the contest.

The cliché, instead, appears in the subplot. Having gambled away his savings, Pat's obsessive-compulsive father makes a deal: if the Philadelphia Eagles win their game at the same time that Pat and Tiffany achieve at least a middling score, he will reap a financial harvest. The bet works out, the film closing with family and friends joyously preparing a meal while Pat and Tiffany kanoodle in a corner, clearly having found "the real thing."

One can't help wondering, however, about other real things: Tiffany's sex addiction, Pat's bipolar disorder, his father's OCD, the family's habit of yelling vulgarities at each other. Ignoring such issues, most viewers want to believe that the silver linings of romantic love can swallow up dark clouds of dysfunctional behavior.

Released almost simultaneously in the U.S. with Silver Linings Playbook, Anna Karenina calls into question our very notion of "the real thing," including the realism of cinema itself—perhaps explaining its uneven reception. Tom Stoppard, who wrote the screenplay for this latest adaptation of Tolstoy's novel, also wrote a 1982 stage play called The Real Thing. Beginning with a husband caustically joking about his wife's adultery, The Real Thing suddenly changes, establishing that the opening was merely a play within the play. When the character who ...

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