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Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

December 20, 2012

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written by: David O. Russell

produced by: Bruce Cohen and Donna Gigliotti

directed by: David O. Russell

rated: R (for language and some sexual content/nudity)

runtime: 122 min.

U.S. release date: November 16, 2012

 

To follow-up 2010’s Oscar-winning drama “The Fighter”, writer/director David O. Russell gives us “The “Silver Linings Playbook”, his adaptation of Matthew Quick’s 2008 novel. The two films actually have quite a bit in common: both have men who must overcome bad behavior and personal obstacles and both of them fall for spirited women who, unbeknownst to these men at the time, happen to be the exact kind of gal these particular men need. Russell is again dealing with some challenging subject matter here, as mental illness replaces substance abuse, and he does so in a respectful and realistic manner combining hilarious wit and refreshing vulnerability. “Silver Linings Playbook” is a challenge to describe to others, since it offers much more than any summary can communicate. It could be considered a dramedy, yet one could also categorize it as a rom-com. If so, it would then be the kind of rom-com that you could recommend to anyone who’s given up on the genre.

Having just spent eight months at a mental institution for beating up his wife’s lover, Pat Solitano Jr. (Bradley Cooper) is ready to begin anew. It won’t be easy though (is it ever?), since his wife has a restraining order against him, he’ll have difficulty getting his teaching job back and he no longer has a place to live. It also doesn’t help that Pat faces all this with the struggles of bipolar issues and his unfiltered foot-in-mouth disease problem. Despite all these elements against him, Pat hangs on to his positive mantra of “Excelsior!” and is convinced that there’s a ‘silver lining’ to be found at every turn. Against the wishes of his therapist, Dr. Patel (an enjoyable Anupam Kher “Bend It Like Beckham”), Pat refuses to take medication, preferring to rely on physical and mental rehabilitation to rebuild his life.

He returns to his childhood home in Philadelphia, with the help of his passive mother, Delores (Jacki Weaver “Animal Kingdom”), who’s something of an enabler and then there’s his distant and judgmental father, Pat Sr. (Robert DeNiro), who has his own OCD challenges tied to his superstitious obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles football team. Pat’s older brother, Jake (Shea WhighamTake Shelter“) shows up as well, displaying a similar lack of couth as he describes his current successes to his troubled brother. It doesn’t take a psychology major to see that much of Pat’s troubles stem from his gene pool. Like Russell provided such an authentic familial dynamic in “The Fighter” with the Wards, the Solitanos feel just as real, especially getting that old school Italian demeanor down.

 

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Making his rounds in the old neighborhood, Pat lets his stressed-out friend Ronnie (John Ortiz) and his domineering wife, Veronica (Julia Stiles) know that he’s back in town. This leads to him meeting Veronica’s younger sister Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who carries emotional scar tissue, having recently been widowed and dealing with depression while living with the social stigma of her own certain scandalous behavior. There’s an immediate connection between the two of them – she see’s it, but he’s a little slow, still thinking that he has a chance to reconnect with his wife. To do so, Pat turns to Tiffany for help, asking her to deliver a letter to his wife (a mutual friend of Veronica’s) that would apologize for his behavior and let her know how stable he is now.

Tiffany agrees, but only on the condition that Pat trains and participates in an important couples dance competition with her. He takes her offer, thinking it will make him look like a generous, cooperative and stable individual. Eventually this finds Pat wrestling with whether or not his original goal is even obtainable, leaving Tiffany to wonder if the vulnerability that she is showing will lead to him coming around and realizing how right they are for each other.

Does this lead to an unexpected romantic connection between the two of them? Sure, for the characters, but not the audience. And that shouldn’t bother anyone, because of the way in which Russell handles the two leads and their situations. Navigating them through their own drama as they begin to create something new together, Russell creates something special here by providing absorbing character interaction, smooth and electric storytelling and captivating camera techniques.

 

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His screenplay is quite memorable, offering several great scenes between Cooper and Lawrence as well as some combustible family sequences that emphasize anxiety and anguish over the familiar heavy-handed comedy we often see in dramedies. There may be areas of predictability and pockets of clichés, but the viewer’s investment is intact due to the richness of these characters and the fine performances by the actors portraying them.

In fact, this is probably the best work yet from both Cooper and Lawrence. Despite a sixteen year age gap between the two actors, they undoubtedly connect, radiating a palpable chemistry. Cooper had shown his range from his days on “Alias”, but his work as Pat is a wonderful surprise. It’s not easy to convey the unpredictable nature of anxiety and paranoia, but he nails it effortlessly and regardless of his behavior – we root for him. Lawrence always seems to have such a maturity and wisdom about her, it’s in her eyes and her body language, and here she is given material to exercise her comedic chops while displaying an impressive range of raw emotion.

It helps that both actors are surrounded by such a fine supporting cast that ground them in reality as well as add a good deal of variety and depth to their environment. As Pat’s parents, Weaver and DeNiro truly feel like a couple who have weathered their own issues. Like many real-life couples their age, they may need therapy themselves but they’ve managed to function in their dysfunction, quirks and all.

 

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A couple other actors standout as well, one who typically is cast in the type of role we see him in here and another making a surprise turn in his career trajectory. Paul Herman is an actor who usually shows up as some Italian mook or goombah here and there (“Goodfellas” and “Analyze That”) and it’s only appropriate that he plays Randy, a close friend of the Solitano family. You know, the kind who’s treating like a family member, the one who’s always hanging around the house. Randy is Pat Sr’s best friend but he’s also his contentious gambling adversary as well. Chris Tucker is also here as well, that’s right that Chris Tucker. He plays Danny, a friend of Pat Jr’s from the mental institute who has a knack for working around the complex legalities in order to spring himself out. As expected, he brings some comedy, but it’s more situational than it is the typical loudmouth delivery we expect from Tucker. It’s the most subdued performance the actor has ever done and the kind of material I would gladly see him embrace again.

In his previous films, like “Three Kings” and “The Fighter“, Russell used creative camerawork, zooming and swirling to depict the intensity and manic energy for each situation. That happens here as well, but often to accentuate Pat’s inner chaos, establishing a connection between the viewer and the protagonist’s disorientation. Pat is more of a broken man than he is a powder keg with certain understandable triggers that set him off, that often lead him to spurts of violence. All this is captured by cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi (“The Grey” and “Warrior“) with a subtle yet vibrant approach and is bounced along by an infectious score by Danny Elfman along with they kind of catchy songs that Russell is known for injecting into his films.

“Silver Linings Playbook” shows that there may be hope for the rom-com, or however you want to consider it. It benefits from two tremendous lead performances, despite any shortcomings some may feel it has. It’s a story that holds up after multiple viewings and one that is easy for me to recommend to anyone, which is very rare with most new releases.

 

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RATING: ****

 

 

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