During certain televised sporting events—tennis comes to mind—a live feed of some athlete’s hometown bar in Scotland flashes on screen, and a horde of proud locals briefly wave for the camera. The Llanerch Diner in Upper Darby—the scene of a scene in Silver Linings Playbook—was just like that during the Oscars last night, except everybody was essentially cheering for a restaurant. Bradley Cooper’s from Jenkintown and Jennifer Lawrence is from Kentucky, but that diner is a freakin hometown hero.
As soon I walk in to the viewing party, about an hour before the show stars, a middle-aged blonde woman called Dee sees my pad and sidles up to me. “My kids call this place Havernotown,” she says. (The Havertown line is right across the street from the diner.) “Now they can’t say that anymore.” Indeed. Tinsel hangs from the ceilings, the waiter’s in a tux, the ladies are wearing furs, and a reddish carpet is streaming out the front entrance. All free of charge, for we, the VIPs: Tomato pies, wings, pasta, stuffed grape leaves, cake, and Silver Linings-logoed flutes of fine J. Roget Extra Dry champagne. For charge: Silver Linings mugs and t-shirts, which a manager assures me have been authorized by the film’s producers.
After watching Robert DeNiro get interviewed on the red carpet (there’s a fair amount of “oh, interesting, I had no idea…” when someone identifies the African American woman standing next to him as his wife), and raucously cheered by the diner crowd, I sidle into The Booth. You know, the one where Bradley Cooper orders Raisin Brain, Jennifer Lawrence pulls a Five Easy Pieces, and which the Llanarch diner has commemorated with a plaque that’s omitted the letter “r” from the word “starring.”
Speaking of staring, I’m sitting across from a man and his teenage daughter, whom he says is utterly enraptured by Mr. Cooper. “Am I going to die if he doesn’t win an Oscar? Is this an Eagles game?” says Paul DeFeo, who’s wearing a Germantown Friends sweatshirt (Cooper’s alma mater; the equivalent of a jersey). “My daughter would. She’s in love.” His daughter blushes.
But there’s a problem. As much as everyone wants to observe Cooper et al. using all five of their senses, nobody can quite get the TV volume high enough—or the crowd quiet enough—once the show starts. “I can’t hear anything!” says Michelle Mammele, who is sitting in the booth next to The Booth, with a group of gregarious Italian women who are in some way or another related to one another.
She’s explaining to someone that the host of the program is the guy who “didFamily Man and the movie with the teddy bear who’s raunchy” when someone finally gets the closed-captioning to work. “Oh God, I can’t see anything.” The font is too small.
Thankfully, an older gentleman with snow white hair is walking around with a Coopersque cut-off trash bag atop his hoodie, mimicking the film’s Pat Solitano character: “I should have taken my medication,” he mutters, faux-trembling. “I should have taken my medication.”
There are also real movie stars in the crowd. Mike Martino, of Drexel Hill, had a silent part in the film, though he can’t identify when he appeared, or really what he was doing, since he hasn’t seen the movie. He is, however, carrying around a newspaper clipping about his role, which appears to have something to do with a vintage car. Martino said he dabbles in acting, but insists he’s an accordionist by trade.
Sitting in a booth nearby is a more prominent star—Delco native Ibrahim Syed, who played a character identified only as the “Indian Invasion.” (He’s in the tailgate scene, and helps return Bradley Cooper to his home, post-brawl.) Syed says he’s given up his job at a Toyota dealership to pursue acting full-time, had a role in the short-lived Philly-set TV show “Do No Harm.” Wearing a black suit, Syed gets me to take a picture of him and his wife, later nudging me on his way out: “You’ll put the picture in the magazine?”
Back by the Booth, the Italian sisters/cousins have imbibed more than a few flutes of J. Roget. “Has anybody seen anybody win anything but the German?” Michelle asks. “Has anybody heard anything anybody has said?” Michelle’s sister Sue, meanwhile, is eyeing the staff suspiciously, whispering in my ear. “This place isgoofy,” she says, unwilling to use the word she really means. “We never come here.” She’s probably not crazy about the guys wearing Jordans and fitted caps just outside the diner’s entrance, greeting girls with “Hey” as they walk out.
“My son thinks Philly is so provincial,” Sue tells me at one point, adding that she’s not crazy about it herself. A few minutes later the official “Silver Linings Playbook,” Best Picture nomination is announced, and the Llanerch briefly appears in the accompanying clip montage. The Booth, the Italian booth, and everybody else in the diner promptly loses it.
For more by Simon van Zuylen-Wood, check out The Philly Post.
Photos from the Llanerch Diner