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Monday, 18 March 2013

Silver Linings Playbook (2012) | Review

Director
David O. Russell

Cast and Credits
Bradley Cooper as Pat Solitano 
Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany Maxwell 
Robert De Niro as Pat Solitano Sr. 
Jacki Weaver as Dolores Solitano 
Chris Tucker as Danny 
Anupam Kher as Dr. Cliff Patel

Running Time: 122 Minutes
Country of Production: USA
Language: English 


 



Reviewed By: Benjamin D. Skevofilax
Edited By: Colleen Skerrett

Review: B
Overview: Lightweight fare that focuses maturely on a very hard-hitting subject... it's brief sidestep into sentimentality doesn't take away from this being one of the best films of the year

With his last two features, indie wunderkind David O. Russell has transformed the conventional Hollywood genre with his own unique spin and garnered awards galore. While these films have subscribed in someway to their specific blueprint attempt, they have for the most part succeeded at re-imagining their genre. These films are The Fighter (2010) and Silver Linings Playbook (2012). 

The former film sits somewhere between the optimism of Rocky (1976) and the gritty bleakness of Raging Bull (1980). A boxing bio-pic about one of the most dysfunctional yet believable families around, and the talented boxer Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) who tries to escape the madness of his family that includes his domineering stage mother, Alice (Melissa Leo), and his drug addicted, washed-up half-brother Dicky (Christian Bale) who is also a boxer. Micky is subsequently caught between them, his career and his love for tough-as-nails barmaid, Charlene (Amy Adams).

Had The Fighter been made as a big-budget studio picture it would have followed every formula and cliché imaginable. However, thanks to Russell’s intense and realistic approach the film converts the story into something denser despite taking several liberties with its source material.

Silver Linings Playbook (2012) is a quirky romantic comedy that likewise focuses on a dysfunctional family – albeit a more functioning one, just barely. In it, Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) is a mental patient who has just been released from the loony bin into the custody of his supportive mother, Dolores (Jacki Weaver). Pat is a former teacher who was sent to the mental hospital after almost killing his wife’s lover. Upon his release, he moves back into his parents’ home that also includes his OCD, superstitious, sports-obsessed father, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro). If that wasn't enough, things become even more complicated when Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a widowed recovering sex addict, comes into his life.

Based on the acclaimed novel by Matthew Quick, Silver Linings is a Romantic Comedy – a highly dubious sub-genre if ever there was one. Fortunately, this time around there’s no lovelorn career-minded single woman whose dream man just happens to materialize as they fall in love at first sight. Here we have two outcasts with mental illness who don’t follow the norms of what society thinks they should.

On-screen mental illness has previously been handled mostly in dramas, notably in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975, Milos Forman). On the rare occasion in which it has been dealt with in comedy it’s characters are predominantly reduced to caricatures, “crazies” or wacky supporting characters. However, Russell (who also wrote the screenplay) has concocted an edgy lightweight Rom-Com that manages to never criticize or censor its characters’ motivations, instead asking the bigger questions about what is “normal”. And it rarely puts a foot wrong, that is, up until the final five minutes when it slips through its fingers.

That minor issue aside, what’s not to love about a film that has its romantic couple breaking the ice at the dinner table by enthusiastically comparing the medication that they have been or are on and their side effects or benefits as if it were a hobby while the baffled hosts look on?

It’s the characters, not the plot, that makes Silver Linings memorable. The story which involves opposites attracting, sports bets and a Dancing with the Stars-esque local dance competition (which highlights near the end of the film) wouldn't have worked in the least had it not been for the eccentric characters which are intern portrayed by a fantastic cast led by Bradley Cooper who has never been better in a breakthrough role. Cooper struggled for a number of years before gaining attention for The Hangover and its sequels (Part III releases this year). He is ideal as the recovering mental patient whose world is so wrapped around reuniting with his wife who has a restraining order against him. His character also has no filter on what to say which is also unique for a Rom-Com. 

As his parents both Robert DeNiro and Jacki Weaver are perfectly cast and it’s easy to see where he gets his traits from – his father is an undiagnosed bipolar and his mother is the over-supportive matriarch trying to deal with all the chaos around her. Through these characters, Silver Linings poses three questions: who is really “stable”, who is really “sane” or do we all have some form of psychosis diagnosed or otherwise?

It's Jennifer Lawrence who dazzles in this film; at just 22 the actress who already seems like a veteran (hell, she’s already an Oscar winner – the second youngest in the leading actress category, holding the record for most nominations for her age!) owns the role of Tiffany. Lawrence never tries to overplay the character or make her too sympathetic; sure, she’s a reformed sex addict but that doesn't mean she has to play her as a slut. Nor does it mean that she has to sweep everything under the rug and pretend it never happened, as evidenced when Tiffany is asked by Pat why she lost her job (the reason she gives is that she slept with a lot of people at work – both men and women).

We believe Lawrence at every turn, and her deft handling of some rapid fire dialogue is flawless and there’s an instant chemistry with Cooper, albeit initially one of animosity. One of the many highlights comes when she faces off against Robert De Niro; Tiffany and Pat Snr. engage in an argument about football in which she seems years ahead of her age – Lawrence’s delivery and timing is comparable to the legendary screwball comedies of a bygone era Rosalind Russell, Myrna Loy, or Carole Lombard, etc.

There’s also a strong presence from Chris Tucker (who hasn’t appeared on screen in 5 years) as Pat’s equally screwed up friend from the hospital. Indian actor Anupam Kher plays Pat’s unconventional psychiatrist and surprise football fanatic, Dr Cliff Patel.

Silver Linings bares a lot in common with The Fighter; it focuses on an eccentric family, this time in Philadelphia instead of Boston, and it has a sports-centric subplot as the Solitanos are sports crazy and Pat Sr. believes his son to be a good luck charm. This is a subplot that you can love or hate, or just not understand (this is American football after all) and when the crucial scene about the sports comes into play (pardon the pun) it becomes a bit confusing, but doesn't deter from the film in anyway.

Russell and cinematographer, Masanobu Takayanagi (The Grey, Warrior) have infused an edginess that keeps us on our guard the whole time. The camera does not stop moving for almost half the film as though it is surveying everything that is on screen, not dissimilar to the state of mind of its protagonist, Pat.

Silver Linings Playbook is lightweight fare that focuses maturely on a very hard-hitting subject, not just mental illness but what society deems as “normal”. The film rarely relies on sentimentality, even though it might become a tad cliched in its final scenes, it doesn't take away from it being one of the best films of the year so far and a worthy contender for awards glory.

3 comments:

  1. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are both excellent and give the performance of their careers. They're both recovering from bad movies they've been in like The Hangover 2 and House at the End of the Street and now they've got themselves some well-earned Oscar nominations, even having one winning. Well-deserved win too. Great review Benjamin.

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