Silver Linings Playbook

© 2012 Ray Wong

The crowd-pleasing feel good movie of the year has arrived, and it's aptly called Silver Linings Playbook. Based on Matthew Quick's popular novel, the movie touches on the wide spectrum of emotions with quirky but likable characters, albeit being predictable and contrived at times.

Pat (Bradley Cooper) has been in a mental hospital because of a plea bargain following a mental breakdown that resulted in him almost killing a fellow teacher in an outburst of rage. It happens that Pat's wife had been cheating on him with said teacher. Pat finally snapped, and was promptly diagnosed as being bipolar. After eight months, Pat's mother (Jacki Weaver) has had enough so she asks the court to release Pat, and she takes Pat under her wings since Pat has lost his job, his house, and his wife.

Living under his parents' roof again and trying to adjust back to real life has not been easy for Pat. He tries to do his best, and he's going to therapy, but he also makes a conscientious choice to win his wife back, who has since moved on. Meanwhile, his best friend Ronnie (John Ortiz) tries to set him up with his sister-in-law Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who recently became a widow when her cop husband was killed in a freak accident while trying to be a good Samaritan. Tiffany is going through a lot herself, and she was fired from her job by sleeping with 11 people at her workplace.

Pat is instantly attracted to Tiffany, but mentally he is trying very hard to resist and avoid her because his mind is set on winning his wife back. Tiffany, who has access to Pat's wife, agrees to help Pat if only he would do something for her in return. Meanwhile, Pat is trying to reconnect with his father by engaging in one of the few passions they share: The Philadelphia Eagles. Pat's long and strange road of recovery hinges on how well he connects with his family, friends and Tiffany.

Bradley Cooper (The Words) has risen to leading man status relatively quickly based on his Sexiest Man Alive good looks and crowd-pleasing materials he's been presented with such as the Hangover series. However, Cooper has yet to prove his acting chops which is strange since he came from theater. With the character of Pat in Silver Linings Playbook, I think Cooper has finally found his groove. Despite his good looks, Cooper is perfect as the mentally unbalanced man who struggles to find himself. He's shown a good range in his finely tuned performance.

Likewise, Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games) has risen to stardom relatively quickly since her breakout performance in Winter's Bone. Here, she shows a different side which I think is more in line with the actress's true identity than her character in The Hunger Games. She and Bradley Cooper have great chemistry together despite their age difference, and that is key to the success of this movie.

The supporting characters are hilarious but great. Robert De Niro (Being Flynn) nails it in one of his most affecting roles in recent years. In truth, his character is no less neurotic than his bipolar son, and through that hard Italian shell you can see how much he loves his son. That's great acting. Jacki Weaver (The Five-Year Engagement) is wonderfully understated and subtle as Pat's doting mother. John Ortiz (Public Enemies) is fantastic as Pat's best friend, and Julia Stiles (Between Us) is suitably uptight as his wife and Tiffany's sister. Chris Tucker (Rush Hour), however, stands out like a sore thumb among the other seasoned actors. Mr. Tucker has a great presence, but his acting is a bit rusty (and his role seems irrelevant as far as the story is concerned).

Written and directed by David O. Russell (The Fighter), the screenplay adheres to the book's themes and arcs but also deviates from them, and that's a good thing. For example, it plays up the relationship between Pat and his father, and that's a welcome change. Russell himself deviates from his past efforts, too but manages to stay close to his root at the same time. While Silver Linings Playbook is a romantic comedy of sorts and features some outrageously funny characters and situations, it doesn't stray far from the working class characters, grit, and nuances of The Fighter or Three Kings. The writing is sharp, witty and insightful, if at times frantic and somewhat chaotic. But Russell has done a great job developing the characters while moving the plot along without relying too much on stereotypes or shortcuts. There are subtleties in the writing and direction that it may take a second or third viewing to notice.

That said, the direction can be somewhat frantic at times. Given the frantic nature of the characters, I think the director gets a bit too involved, and as a result, some scenes become too frantic and lack the needed objectivity or some narrative distance. Also, the concept of the ballroom dancing competition and the ending are somewhat contrived and predictable. It veers towards the mainstream which is at odds with the premise and first half of the story, where everything seems so fresh and unusual and original. In comparison, the ending simply feels overdone and too crowd pleasing, if not for the two leads who bring down the house with their affecting chemistry and performances.

There's been a lot of Oscar buzz surrounding Silver Linings Playbook, and I can understand why. It's a roaring, feel-good dramedy about broken people who have serious personality flaws. It's a crowd pleaser. It is very funny. And it has very touching moments as well. And the leads have done marvelously. Still, I think if we take a step back, we will start to see the cracks. It's not a perfect film but boy will you have a great time watching it. That itself is a silver lining.

Stars: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker, Anupam Kher, John Ortiz, Julia Stiles
Director: David O. Russell
Writers: David O. Russell (based on novel by Matthew Quick)
Distributor: Weinstein Company
MPAA Rating:  R for language, sexual content and nudity
Running Time: 122 minutes 


Script - 7
Performance - 8
Direction - 8
Cinematography - 8
Music/Sound - 8
Editing - 7
Production - 8

Total - 7.9 out of 10.0 

No comments: