David O. Russell
Pat Solitano [Cooper] has spent the last eight months in a psychiatric facility, after he caught his wife in the shower with a colleague and beat the man within an inch of his life. Pat was diagnosed with unchecked bipolar disorder, severe mood swings and a violent temperament. As such, he lost his job, his house and his wife, who took out a restraining order against him. The story opens as Pat is released to private custody, permitted to stay with his parents, providing he take his medication and attend regular therapy sessions. Despite his arguably ‘normal’ mannerisms, Pat lacks a filter and speaks his mind without forethought and occasionally becomes irrational and inconsolable over the smallest thing. Pat is driven to the point of obsession, believing he can win back his wife by getting into better physical shape and maintaining a positive outlook. While having dinner with friends, Pat is introduced to the recently widowed Tiffany Maxwell [Lawrence]. Tiffany’s husband was a police officer and after his death, began acting erratically owing to post traumatic stress. The two form an odd friendship and Tiffany agrees to help Pat contact his wife, if he agrees to perform in a dance contest. Meanwhile, Pat’s father football obsessed, Pat Snr [De Niro], is convinced that his team are losing because his son won’t spend time at home; a subplot which grows out of control as Pat Snr’s main source of income is through gambling on said games.
Many actors jump at the chance to portrayal a character suffering with some form of mental illness. They do this not to spread awareness or because they believe in the project but largely to ‘push themselves’ as an actor. They’re also aware (as are their agents) that playing a character of this nature is Oscar bait. So what you end up with is a fairly average script about a serious illness that’s brought to the screen by great acting – and by ‘great’ I mean big, not good. In the same way that Russell’s last film, The Fighter, wasn’t about fighting, this movie isn’t really about mental illness, it’s about familial drama and new relationships. Bradley Cooper has officially proven that not only is he able to act but he has absolutely no business in films like, The Hangover: Part II, especially when he’s capable of producing something so meaningful and impressive. With the synopsis above and the information that Cooper was playing the lead, I would instantly dismiss this film and curse the moronic casting director for hiring that grinning dick bag. But his portrayal of Pat is so subtly layered and compellingly funny, that your heart bleeds for this guy and his ridiculously futile quest. Then there’s Jennifer Lawrence, who will be heralded as one of the finest young actors working today. I knew she was good after she appeared in Winter’s Bone but this is simply breath-taking. It’s not the hissy fits, the screaming, the manipulation or the seduction, it’s the fact that you genuinely wouldn’t be able to tell that she was only twenty one when this was filmed. She clearly has a great deal of fun in the role but there’s a wealth of maturity brought forth which makes the defence mechanisms completely plausible.
I’ll admit, this film probably isn’t for everyone. Not necessarily because of the story, more the subject matter. Certain audience members simply aren’t mature enough or in the right mindset to handle a plot of this nature. They might find it amusing but in trying to replicate dramatic mood-swings, without pandering speeches by a helpful on-screen guru to take them by the hand and explain everything, people will find it disorientating and jarring. But these people are idiots. Sorry, they are. If they can’t keep up, fuck ’em. Too many movies lower the bar to cater for idiots. But I’m digressing far too much here. Let’s leave the speculation aside and talk about the actual negative points because there are a few. First of all, there’s the relatively odd, clunky title. You’d be surprised how something as simple as that will damage a film’s success but Silver Linings Playbook is dumb and does not transcend US borders; shame. Secondly, we have the horrifically bland poster campaign which, again, tells you nothing and an only stand to hurt this film’s success. Finally, there’s Danny Elfman’s phoned-in, almost dismissible score. Granted, independent films of this nature almost completely rely on musical tracks from equally independent musicians and there’s very little for a composer to actually do but I barely noticed a score, which is unfortunate.
God, I hate writing reviews for films that I really love. Give me a shitty movie and I’ll tear it to shreds, or even a movie I had hoped would be good but turned out to be disappointing or a wasted opportunity, I’ll illustrate why it failed. But a movie that is delightful and charming in every regard? There’s only so many ways you can profess your love for something without sounding saccharine and insincere. The characters here are so desperate to succeed, so desperate for you to want them to be happy that you can’t help but be drawn in. Empathy for characters is a rare thing these days – nobody wants to see others happy – and despite so many attempts, the desired effect falls flat. We don’t want our heroes and idols to succeed all the time, if would only serve as a reminder of how crappy our own lives are. So we get cynical, we sneer at forced emotional connections and actor after actor devoid of credible chemistry in ridiculous scenarios. But that’s where Silver Linings Playbook is different; it’s pure on-screen escapism but the perfect combination of phenomenal performances, masterful direction and an amazing screenplay makes it feel so very real. Literally every cliché tick box is checked and I still loved every second of this movie and THAT is a statement.
23rd November 2012
The Scene To Look Out For:
Desperate to catch up on the reading list that his estranged wife is teaching, Pat ploughs through Hemmingway’s A Farewell To Arms, finishing in the early hours of the morning. Turning the last page and clearly unhappy with the end, Pat looks up and exclaims, “What the fuck!?” before hurling the book through the window and proceeding to his parent’s bedroom to passionately discuss the plot. I think this was the exact moment when I realised how good this film is. Pat’s disdain for tragic endings and despair that people aren’t happy with a positive end to a story greatly upsets him and it feels almost like a precursor nod to the audience, stating if you have a problem with how this film is shaping up, ask yourself why. What’s wrong with a happy ending if it’s done well?
Without a doubt, Cooper and Lawrence are the stars and their performances are quite brilliant but to completely ignore the supporting ensemble cast would be a massive mistake. Robert De Niro is on excellent form and this is possibly his best performance since 1998. Equally, Jacki Weaver plays the every-mum beautifully with compassion and innocence. Julia Stiles, John Ortiz and Shea Whigham are on pitch form in their minor capacity but still manage to hold your attention while on-screen and Chris Tucker is actually funny. It’s worth reading that last statement again and really taking on board the weight of what I’m saying there.
“My problem is I tell the truth.. you’re just really mean”
In A Few Words:
“Despite the silly title, this is an incredibly funny, shocking, gut-wrenching, tense, beautiful and genuinely heart-warming offbeat romantic comedy. You owe it to yourself to watch it”
Total Score: 4/5