Monday, December 3, 2012



- I went into Silver Linings Playbook knowing very little about the film, and I came away fairly shocked by how great of a movie this turned out to be. Throw away any preconceived notions about the film based on its marketing - this is a dark comedy that definitely does not fit neatly into any one genre. There are elements of screwball and romantic comedy, shades of psychological character studies, and bits of slice-of-life quirkiness. But the sum total is an unexpected surprise - one of the year's flat-out funniest films, and also one of its most joyous and applause-worthy. There's a Little Miss Sunshine-style vibe to this one, and the  film's pleasures are felt all the more deeply thanks to the outstanding, awards-worthy cast. David O. Russell has made a great film in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK. I mean, look, most people will tell you that I have a strong distaste for overly sentimental rom-coms that go for cheap melodrama. But I'll admit, I wanted to stand and cheer as this movie raced towards its well-earned climax.

Like many, I don't know why, exactly, but I've developed sort of a distaste for Bradley Cooper over the last several years. Maybe it was ill-will from the annoying Hangover franchise, maybe it was the endless string of lame starring roles of late, but I wasn't running to see a prestige flick with Cooper in the lead. After seeing Silver Linings Playbook ... scratch all that. Cooper is phenomenal in this one, playing Pat, a mentally-ill guy freshly released from the psych-ward - trying to restart his life, going back to live with his overbearing parents in small-town suburbia. As Pat, Cooper is a tightly-wound ball of chaos - speaking in an awkward, unfiltered manner that makes those around him cringe. Cooper brilliantly shows Pat in various degrees of psychosis - at times, you can see him reigning himself in and doing his best to fit in. Other times, he comes unspooled, lashing out, lacking social graces, becoming fixated and obsessed with certain things or ideas. David O. Russell's adapted screenplay of the novel by Matthew Quick gives Pat all sorts of recurring fixations - a song that drives him insane with rage whenever he hears it, for example. But Pat isn't just some crazy guy - Cooper and Russell mold him into a fully fleshed-out character that feels real and plausible, even if his particular brand of crazy isn't necessarily "real-world" crazy. But I give Cooper a ton of credit - this is easily his best screen performance ever, and it's one that casts him in a new light as a legitimately great actor capable of Oscar-worthy turns. I am now a Bradley Cooper fan.

And yet, equally awesome is Jennifer Lawrence. This girl is mind-blowing. She's been consistently fantastic in everything she's done, and yet she's played completely different characters in each of her films so far. She's certainly never played anyone like Tiffany before. Her character in this film matches Cooper's crazy pound for pound. They're two peas in a crazytown pod. But Lawrence gives Tiffany a brilliant madness all her own. Like Pat, she is a wounded soul with a lot of darkness inside her. But Lawrence plays her a vulnerable yet badass, manipulative yet gullible, totally lovable yet scarily unhinged. It would be easy for this character to come off as just the usual manic pixie dreamgirl type. But Lawrence takes the character to another level ... making her fully-formed, fully-developed, with a subtlety and a nuance that is rare for this sort of character. Point being, she's far, far from just being the stock love-interest. It's her movie as much as it is Cooper's. And in fact, this is one of my favorite performances of the year so far. How often does a character start off as weird and semi-off-putting and then make you want to stand up and cheer for her by movie's end? Lawrence has the acting ability equal to any other actress out there - yet's she's also got the movie star ability to make audiences fall in love. What I'm trying to say is: can Jennifer Lawrence just be cast in everything?

Oh, and then there's Rober De Niro. Whoah. Someone woke the slumbering giant and lit a fire under De Niro - this is the best acting from him I've seen in years. As Cooper's father, De Niro plays a guy who seems to be  the level-headed one in the family, but who slowly reveals his own obsessions and mental instabilities. Like father, like son. His character sort of drives home the movie's central message - we're all a bit crazy, but if we stick together, we can shake off the cobwebs that keep us down and move forward with out lives. But man, De Niro is just great - he's got some moments of true hilarity in the film, and some that are guaranteed  to not have a dry eye in the house.

Jacki Weaver is also great as Cooper's beleaguered mom. So too is Anupam Kher as his beleaguered psychiatrist. John Ortiz is also a scene-stealer as Cooper's best friend Ronnie - married to a ball-and-chain of a wife (Julia Stiles), Ronnie is a great and often hilarious counterpoint to Cooper - a mild-mannered everyman on the outside, but with plenty of pent-up rage within. And, oh, I have to mention Paul Herman as Randy - De Niro's old buddy who constantly bets against his friend in a series of ridiculously escalating wagers. I found it incredibly funny - yet oddly touching - how these two old guys are in a fashion so cruel to each other, and yet they sort of thrive off of their competition and remain friends despite it all. Finally, Chris Tucker is in this movie. And he is actually really good, and fairly restrained (for Chris Tucker). As an escaped mental patient who is fiercely loyal to Cooper, he is a great asset to the film.

The film perhaps works best if you don't know a ton about the details of its plot going in. The story is told in such a way that a lot of plot insight is revealed gradually, with many twists as the film goes. It's a fascinating take on the Unreliable Narrator conceit, as the version of events we originally hear from Pat - about his reasons for going into the mental hospital, about his relationship with his wife, about his life in general - well, there's clearly more there than he initially divulges. And the movie becomes so engrossing partially because it's about the lies we tell ourselves, and about the need to break through and accept things as they really are ... not just how we perceive them to be in the fantasy-version of our lives that we've created. And therein lies one of the key distinctions between Pat and Tiffany. Pat lives a fiction - he's constructed a narrative around his life where he is the victim, the hero, the misunderstood genius. But Tiffany - she's comically upfront about all of her failings and mistakes.

Ultimately - yes, there is romance in this movie - but I'd argue that it's not a movie *about* romance so much as it is a movie about breaking through our inner cloud of chaos, and finding some sort of sanity in a mostly insane world. Just about every character in the film surprises by not being what they seem. And SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK surprises by being much, much better than perhaps it looks on paper. Director David O. Russell brings his A-game. The direction is at times personal and in-your-face, at times sweeping and cinematic. But it has a sort of ADD, chaotic quality that mirrors Pat's chaotic mind. I loved the script of the film as well. The dialogue is fantastic, and the script somehow feels both naturalistic and cinematic in the best way possible. My only main gripe - and I suspect this will be the gripe of many ... is that the ending of the film just feels ever-so-slightly too neat and clean. Given how complex these character are, I felt slightly let down that Russell sort of wraps things up in a bow as the credits begin to roll. Even just a single added moment - a reminder that, for these characters, things would always be at least a little messy and weird - would have helped. Don't get me wrong ... the feel-good moments in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK are some of the *most* feel-good, most well-earned, most applause-worthy moments I've seen in a movie of this sort. But most of the film balances out those moments with some real darkness and complexity and characters who you like and root for, but who also feel genuinely screwed-up and off-kilter. Mostly though, the film has a sort of gleeful chaos that reminded me of the uproarious family scenes in Russell's previous film, The Fighter.

With an incredible cast and a just-right mix of humor, heart, darkness, and quirk, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK was one of the big movie surprises of the year for me in 2012. I'll put it right up there towards the top of my list for movies of the year.

My Grade: A-

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