Review: Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Silver Linings Playbook


David O. Russell
David O. Russell (Novel: Matthew Quick)
122 min.
Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker, Anupam Kher, John Ortiz, Shea Whigham, Julia Stiles, Paul Herman, Dash Mihok, Matthew Russell
MPAA Rating
R for language and some sexual content/nudity

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Love is a universal constant in films. Even among horror, sci-fi and other niche genre pics, there is a romantic theme. We’ve had sports-themed films with romantic angles, but few romantic comedies with a sports angle. David O. Russell takes a step away from his typical approach to filmmaking to craft Silver Linings Playbook as a broad, accessible comedy with touches of cinematic style.

It’s not unusual to find a neurotic character in a romantic comedy. Woody Allen excelled at this type of individual. However, focusing on two individuals who have certified mental illnesses is a rather new idea. Russell’s son suffers from an illness similar to that of his main character, Pat (Bradley Cooper), making much of the film a more personal appeal for acceptance and understanding of those with mental illnesses. Pat suffers from bipolar disorder, with an aggressive, violent side hidden beneath a calm, jovial veneer. Cooper’s performance is a revelation for him as an actor after having displayed little or no talent in his post-Hangover career. After Pat lashes out at his high school teaching colleague over the affair he’s having with his wife, he’s sent to a mental facility where he can learn to control and medicate his disorder in hopes of leading a normal life.

Convinced his positive outlook and search for the silver lining in all things, Pat convinces his mother to check him out and together, he returns home where he attempts to lead a normal life again, not quite realizing that his fixation on his ex-wife is getting in the way of his recovery. When he encounters a beautiful nymphomaniac (Jennifer Lawrence), his obsession with his wife begins to slowly dissipate as he unwittingly falls in love with the charismatic but confrontational Tiffany. Lawrence is the highlight of the film. Apart from feeling a tad young to be playing a military widow, she easily sloughs off those concerns with a convincing, marvelous performance, bouncing between light comedy and irrational hostility with capable ease.

As Pat’s mother, Jacki Weaver is given too little to work with, but considering how different this performance is from her vicious turn in Animal Kingdom, for which she received an Oscar nomination, it prevents you from entirely dismissing her performance. Robert De Niro is given his most challenging role in several years and he does wonders with it, but there isn’t enough to the character, a further fault of the screenplay. And although motor-mouth Chris Tucker has a very superficial role in the film, he adds some very amusing asides that give the film a few jolts whenever he shows up again.

Romantic comedies seldom end differently. Russell is a daring filmmaker, but even he doesn’t step away from the tropes of the genre. Apart from his characters’ mental illnesses and challenges, there’s little difference between a movie like this and something that could have been directed by Nora Ephron. Nor should there be. The reason the medium has lived virtually unchanged since the style was established by films like It Happened One Night and Holiday, is that it’s such a successful blend of love-hate relationships developing into romantic chemistry. Unlike their overly sentimental counterparts in the romantic drama sub-genre, romcoms don’t have to continuously reinvent themselves to stay relevant because what makes them so engaging hasn’t changed for audiences in over 80 years.

As audiences, we love to laugh and cry and two people, damaged as they may be, deserve to be happy together. Even if the ending is predictable, it’s the journey that matters. Silver Linings Playbook chooses its plays from the very books that made the genre the staple it is today. By keeping the tinkering to a minimum and exploring the complex dance between characters both literal and figurative, Russell has crafted a genuine, heartfelt, and sometimes bumpy film that should please most filmgoers even if they put too much stake in how original it is.

Russell has the capability of so much more, especially as a screenwriter, and while it would be nice to see a movie that twists the genre’s more stale elements, Silver Linings Playbook is a fine feature and one that is undeniably enjoyable.
May 20, 2013

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