‘Silver Linings Playbook’ forgets the dance thing

Shoes. I’m obsessed with shoes and I’m not talking about the kind of Imelda Marcos or Sex in the City type of obsession. Dancing is about form and shoes are a part of that.

For common theatrical dance steps that the chorus might be required to do, you’d need character shoes. I have those. For that class I took in tap, I have two shoes–the first I bought simply because I believe the sales person that the hard leather would stretch to fit my foot. It didn’t and resulted in agony when I was just walking.

I have flat-soled German-made Oxfords. Those I got for a mere $5 because they didn’t fit the person who ordered them (too small).

Then there are my Argentine tango shoes. They are like Latin shoes, about a 1/2 inch higher than a woman would use for regular ballroom because you want to lean into your partner.

So when I saw “Silver Linings Playbook” I was disappointed that while they did take the bipolar thing seriously, they didn’t take the dance thing seriously. The romantic dramedy is adapted from a novel by Matthew Quick with a screenplay by David O. Russell who also directs.

The movie begins with the release of Pat Solitano Jr. (Bradley Cooper) from a mental health care facility where he has been due the rage assault on another man. Rather light sentence you might think, but Pat suffers from bipolar disorder and came home one day to find his wife Nikki (Brea Bee) in the shower with another man. Nikki decided the perfect soundtrack for her illicit tryst was the same song she and Pat had chosen for their wedding: Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour.”

Pat leaves behind his good friend Danny (Chris Tucker) whose legal disputes prevent him from being released. In turn Pat has been left behind by his wife, who has moved away. In the care of his very superstitious father Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) and his peacemaker mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver), he moves into the attic determined find the silver linings plan to win back his wife. His theory is that every bad thing has something good if you look hard enough.

Pat has a court-mandated date with a therapist, Dr. Patel (Anupam Kher). His other outside connection is his old friend Ronnie (John Ortiz) who is married to Veronica (Julia Stiles). Veronica is still in contact with Nikki and becomes the focal point of Pat’s hope for a happy reunion, but Veronica isn’t having any of it. Her sister, Tiffany,  needs help with a dance competition and lures Pat into being her partner by becoming an emissary for his letters.

Jennifer Lawrence won an Academy Award for Best Actress. Her character, Tiffany Maxwell, is a widow with promiscuity problems. Pat’s dedication to getting back his wife keep Pat and Tiffany from becoming hot and heavy in bed.

Pat’s father, Pat Sr. also has a history of violence and his superstitions are seen as a possible neurosis, but not so with his and his son’s dedication to the Eagles. The Eagle fanaticism what brings father and son together and even bring Dr. Patel into the family circle.

Pat Sr. is determined to earn enough money gambling to start a restaurant and a double bet is placed that depends upon the Eagles winning and Pat and Tiffany getting passing marks. So far so good, until we get serious about the dance thing.

Well just what is the dance thing? Dancers knew the filmmakers weren’t taking the dance thing seriously when we get a shot of the shoes. Yes, the shoes. The renovated garage into a dance studio was fine and the floor looked like a dance floor should. But the shoes. Lawrence’s character Tiffany, wears crinkly ballet style shoes. I mean not real ballet shoes like I wear for my class and certainly not like the ones that more advanced students would wear for point (that standing on their toes). She’s wearing the kind of shoes that you’d wear around the house or on the street (if your feet are tough enough and you really want to feel every crack in the concrete.

At least her shoes sort of resemble dance shoes. Pat is wearing running shoes, but he uses duct tape on them. I’ve heard of that, but only to prevent damage from the concrete on real dance shoes. For ballroom, the woman would have shoes with a slight heel and usually a soft suede sole. The man would also have shoes with a heel–lower, of course, than the woman’s. His sole would also be suede. A rubber sole has too much traction for the turns and you need a heel to correctly to a heel lead which is required on some ballroom dances.

My experience with ballroom is not extensive, but I have competed in two ballroom competitions and been the volunteer staff twice. The competitors don’t get their names called out when they enter the competition area. They are identified by number. Usually the beginner heats have more competitors and the skill set is pretty much set out by their level.

Because we were dancing what is usually considered a night club dance (Argentine tango and swing), we didn’t have a teacher helping us. However, while we see Tiffany and Pat practicing a waltz, they also attempt to do a tap dance number (from “Singin’ in the Rain”) which never happens because tap isn’t a ballroom dance and you’d need different shoes. The posture in tap is also different.

If you’ve seen the original Japanese movie, “Shall We Dance?” then you’ll know that posture is important. That something not brought out in the movie at all. And for a beginner routine and most advanced routines (except something like show tango) lifts are not allowed at all.  Usually when you learn a lift, you need a male teacher to show the leader what to do and plenty of crash pads are highly recommended with spotters. The lift they used in “Silver Linings Playbook” is not the first lift one usually learns.

With Dancing with the Stars and Lil’ Romeo getting the shoes despite his father Master P warning against it and with the documentary “Mad Hot Ballroom,” ballroom and dance has become a more prominent aspect of American life. I understand “Silver Linings Playbook” is a movie and not reality, and you might want to dress the main characters better or even more outlandishly than necessary to make a point (and usually female competitors wear dresses or a skirt), but at least get the shoes right.

Master P and Ashly doing the paso doble.

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