[Review] – Silver Linings Playbook

21 Nov

Title: Silver Linings Playbook
Year: 2012
Director: David O. Russell
Writer: David O. Russell, based on the novel by Matthew Quick
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Anupam Kher, Julia Stiles, Chris Tucker
MPAA Rating: R, language and some sexual content/nudity
Runtime: 122 min
IMDb Rating: 8.1
Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
Metacritic: 82

A lot has already been said about Silver Linings Playbook after it surprised virtually everyone when it won the People’s Choice Award at this year’s TIFF over Argo. It’s been said that it’s now one of the five front-runners to win the Best Picture Oscar, that Jennifer Lawrence is the front-runner to win Best Actress, that Bradley Cooper gives the best performance of his career, that Robert De Niro gives the best one he’s given in over a decade. All of that, by the way, is actually true. This is a tremendously successful film that walks a tightrope that’s been walked on by more than a few films before it, but that walks it way better than them because of his cast and this exceedingly talented director.

That director is, of course, David O. Russell. A guy who’s work I absolutely love and who, after the success he got with The Fighter back in 2010, now gets to adapt a Matthew Quick novel with the power of Harvey Weinstein behind him. He’s one of those rare directors with a career that spans nearly two decades who hasn’t made a clunker yet, and I loved that he got the recognition he got with The Fighter (a film I ranked as the 15th best of 2010, giving it an A) what with the Oscar and DGA nods meaning he was now getting the recognition he so deserved, and would maybe get to make the projects he wanted to with more ease from now on.

He’s squarely in the running for that second Oscar nomination, by the way, that’s how good this movie is and, just as importantly, that’s how much pretty much everyone is liking it, a factor that’s really important come Oscar time. This is, by the way, a romantic comedy that involves mental illness. You have Mr. Cooper as Pat Solitano a guy who finds himself without a job, without a wife, without a house, now living back at home with his parents after spending some eight months in a state mental institution. He wants to rebuild his life, to somehow get back with his wife, his parents also want him to capture life again and yet it’s a mysterious young woman, played by Ms. Lawrence, who becomes the key for all of this.

To see the relationship between these two, between Pat and Tiffany, is one of the highlights of the year in film in my opinion. She has troubles of her own and promises to help him reunite with his wife if he’ll do something for her in return and, as you might imagine, things start getting complicated as a bond develops between the two of them. How this is all written and directed and acted is what makes it stand out so far above the rest of movies like this; it’s just always so smart and brilliantly paced and sharp and fun. It’s a movie that also feels beautifully alive, and I loved it for that.

I loved it also because of these characters. Jacki Weaver plays Pat’s mother, our sole link to sanity here, a woman who knows a thing or two about dealing with people who are a bit unstable because of Pat’s father, played by Mr. De Niro, an obsessive fan of the Philadelphia Eagles who was banned from the stadium for fighting and now really lives for the games on TV. Now it’s her son who’s having issues, spending time at an institution after having done an awful lot of damage to his life after splitting with his wife, which included beating up her his ex’s new boyfriend. Yet’s is incredible to see just how sure and confident Pat is that he can get it all back on the right track.

Then you have Tiffany, a wondrous creation in the hands of Jennifer Lawrence. She’s more than a bit unstable herself and she wants Pat and she doesn’t get why he’s so obsessed with his ex. A couple of bets are made between them, one involving a football match and the other involving ballroom dancing, that enable this film to go in the direction of more than one screwball comedy that came before it. Yet no matter how much you know about what the plot is going to do, the acting and the writing is so exceptional that you realize this may be a little classic in the making, one to be used as inspiration itself for films to come years from now.

We have, obviously, spent some time in the past with movie characters that can be seen as unstable, as a little bit off, their quirks being used to charm us and then be happy when they get their happy ending. Another thing that I thought Silver Linings Playbook did to differentiate itself from many like it was that its lead character is an unstable one that doesn’t really coast by on quirks and whatnot, but rather one that really demands some patience.

Mr. Cooper has indeed never been better than he’s here as Pat (not that that bar was set all that high, but hey), and the way he balances the very funny moments while also providing an emotional heft that’s so very touching during the more dramatic instances is amazing. The stuff between Pat and his father is terrific because his dad doesn’t realize his son is quite a lot like him and is so relentlessly supportive of his son. Plus it was just amazing to see Robert De Niro actually engaged with a character for the first time since the year we are in started with a 2; he’s fantastic here, reminding us what he can do when he really wants to, and an Oscar nomination for him will probably also happen.

You really do have to give it to Mr. Russell who, if you’ve been tracking his career, is a guy that thrives on these kind of chaotic environments, and you can see the family environment from The Fighter being somewhat felt here as well. He’s the one that is always in control of the craziness of this movie and who at times just knows how to dial some of those huge highs just a bit and make the transition into some more painful lows all that more amazing. If the movie feels like its characters, with all its mood and tone swings, it’s because of its director that it still works so beautifully.

This is one of the immediate front-runners for Best Picture, Jennifer Lawrence will probably become an Oscar-winner at age 22, Bradley Cooper may never be this good again and let’s hope Robert De Niro continues wanting to be this good for a while. Silver Linings Playbook is a screwball comedy in the tradition of those that came 80 years before it, yet one that’s not afraid to exist in a world with pain and worrying, one that’s not afraid to acknowledge that dark sting that life can sometimes have.

Grade: A

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