Silver Linings Playbook
Silver Linings Playbook is a good example of the state-of-the-art of modern Oscar wannabe movies: smart, funny, quirky, edgy and not nearly as good as it thinks it is. A romantic comedy-drama in which the two leads just happen to be bi-polar (and a third lead probably is too), Silver Linings purees feel good moments together with cringe-worthy feel bad moments into an in-your-face exploration of romance, mental health and sports fanaticism.
Literally in your face, through a probably intended editing style, much of the action is done in extreme close-up, invading on the audience’s space as much as the real world invades on the life of Pat (Bradley Cooper), a man who has just been sprung from a mental hospital after eight months for nearly beating his ex-wife’s lover to death. Despite the fact that his wife has a restraining order against him, Pat is determined that this was just a misunderstanding and that true love will eventually prevail. Therefore he goes to live with his parents in a tiny row home in the suburbs of Philadelphia, trying desperately to prove to his ex that he is, indeed stable.
Problem is, he isn’t. Little things like the climax of Hemingway’s A Farewell To Arms or the sound of Stevie Wonder’s “Ma Cherie Amour” (not only his wedding song, but the song playing when he caught his wife cheating) will set him off violently. His violent temper appears to be passed down from his father (Robert De Niro), an obsessive-compulsive degenerate gambler who also appears to have anger management problems.
Pat only seems to calm down when he runs across Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), the younger sister of his best friend’s wife. (Much younger, though the movie does not acknowledge the extreme age difference between the characters. Lawrence is over 15 years younger than Cooper.) Tiffany is a wounded soul like him, a young widow who avoids dealing with her grief through anti-social behavior, rampant promiscuity and distancing herself from people emotionally.
The two bond over mutual medications and neuroses. An oddly touching friendship arises as does a shy romantic attraction which he fights, feeling that it is unfaithful to his wife.
Writer-director David O. Russell has always had a tendency to take extremely (some may say self-consciously) eccentric takes on some rather standard storylines. This has always been noticeable in his work, going back to Spanking the Monkey, Flirting With Disaster, Three Kings and I Heart Huckabees. Interestingly, Russell has his strongest critical reaction with his last film The Fighter, in which Russell sanded off his normal quirky bon mots and just told the story straight.
Silver Linings Playbook leaps back into the old, self-aware peculiarity enthusiastically, and the film’s odd balancing act between extreme whimsicality and bordering-on-tragic pathos eventually becomes grating.
As far as the Oscar hopes, some may be founded. A very strong case could be made for Cooper getting at least a nomination for his work for Silver Linings Playbook. The actor takes risks and plays a very complicated character very well, embracing his eccentricities and making him feel real. Lawrence also does extremely good work in a rather under-developed character.
That said, all the pre-release buzz that this was the film that would return Robert De Niro to the awards realm was sadly way off base. Silver Linings Playbook is instead, sadly, just further proof that Mr. De Niro has lost his acting mojo. His “performance” here is just another catalogue of broad post-Focker ticks and mugging. And Robert, that ain’t no Philly accent.
The rest of the acting is mostly better than the material, even, surprisingly, annoying comedian Chris Tucker’s first non-Rush Hour performance since the 90s as one of Pat’s hospital friends who specializes in breaking out of the mental hospital.
There are lots of fine portions of Silver Linings Playbook, so I wish I could say that it was worth the hype. Silver Linings Playbook is easy to respect as a movie, but it’s a lot harder to actually enjoy.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2012 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: December 25, 2012.