Sunday, December 2, 2012

Silver Linings Playbook

Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper in David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook
**** out of ****

Writer-Director David O. Russell’s adaptation of Matthew Quick’s novel, The Silver Linings Playbook is a classic screwball romantic comedy by design but much more with its great one-liners, a perfect ensemble cast and manic direction. It has everything required for the kind of film it is with the welcome addition of biting dialogue and fierce confrontations.

In films like Flirting with Disaster, I Heart Huckabees and The Fighter, Russell has displayed a knack for creating frantic atmospheres where characters engage in banter which may go in the direction of viciousness and sometimes violent passionate outbursts. A romantic comedy about a man with bipolar disorder is right up his alley.

The brilliant Bradley Cooper plays Pat, a former teacher just released from a mental institution who is now without a job and who’s ex-wife has issued a restraining order. Forced to move back in with his parents, played by the excellent Australian actress Jacki Weaver and the great Robert De Niro, he visits old friends with the ulterior motive of reconciling with his ex-wife. A police officer (Dash Mihock), a psychiatrist (Anupam Kher) and Pat’s parents are all on his back, trying to keep him under control. Cooper plays Pat with absurdly hilarious mood-swings, a desperation for enthusiasm, and a talent for locking eye contact when making conversation. It is a superb job.

Here is an interview with Cooper.

He meets Tiffany, played by the “Louisville is so damn proud of you” - Jennifer Lawrence who came to this movie to save all manic pixie dream girls from their sins. Her winning screen-presence seems to prove more range with every film in which she appears. Lawrence plays a young widow who has been sexually reckless since her husband’s death and is prone to fits of rage when she feels judged. Pat and Tiffany’s inappropriate frankness about everything creates beautiful chemistry and ugly explosions. It’s all funny. Pat is forward with Tiffany that he needs her because she has connections with his ex to whom she may be willing to deliver a letter. In exchange for this service, Tiffany wants Pat to participate in a dance competition for which she requires a partner.

Meanwhile Pat’s father, an obsessive-compulsive Philadelphia Eagles fan demands the presence of his son when watching games for superstitious reasons. He has financial troubles and is now desperately dependent on making bets with a friend. De Niro is a great actor who recently seems to be in a semi-retired mode. He tends to take roles for which little effort is required and one could imagine another actor playing. Playing Pat Sr., he breaks this trend beautifully as a father who unconsciously shares neurotic tendencies with his son.

Also in the cast, is John Ortiz as a friend troubled by a marriage which Pat is keen to judge in front of groups of people. Chris Tucker plays Danny, a friend Pat made at the institution, who enjoys visiting Pat and regularly escapes the ward to do so.

As with many cherished romantic comedies of the quirky variety, everything comes together too conveniently during the final act and somehow, I’m not bothered by this. This movie, unlike many others in its genre, defeated my cynicism. I wanted to see a little magic happen to these people.

Silver Linings Playbook is one of the best movies of 2012 making great comedy out of characters who perceive each other's problems but not their own. I laughed constantly throughout this movie not so much out of mockery but more from empathy. Everyone has his or her own history of emotionally driven inappropriate behavior and what really works about this film is that I could see myself in it. 

Listen to David Edelstein's review here.

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