Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Written & Directed by David O. Russell

I’ve always found it interesting to see what comes out of the festival circuit as a darling of the audiences. I say this because there are the films that win the awards at festivals, and the films that the audiences love. They are almost never one and the same. Festival winners seem to be divisive more often than not and as such can be very hit and miss with me. I think the reason for that, and I readily admit this is over generalizing, but I think the reason is that the winners are generally higher reaching and more ambitious. Some of them are great and I really connect to them, but because they reach higher, they can stumble harder and also be too foreign for my interests or even my tastes. The darlings of the audiences are more crowd pleasers, which is not a negative statement. I love crowd pleasers. I am part of the crowd. And every now and again we need a film we can get behind and just have fun with, connect with in a bit easier way.

Silver Linings Playbook is one of those films. It won the People’s Choice award at the Toronto International Film Festival as well as a few other festival audience awards. It focuses on the developing relationship of Pat (Bradley Cooper) and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). Pat is a teacher who is just returning home to Philly after a stint in a mental hospital for an “incident” that occurred when he caught his wife cheating on him. He struggles to adjust back into his life, living with his parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver), and attempting to win back his wife, who has a restraining order out against him. But he soon meets Tiffany, who is equally imbalanced after she lost her husband and went through a sexual spell at her office. The two, in all of their struggles, connect and begin to themselves once more.

What David O. Russell and this film do right is not trying to be deeper and more meaningful than it needs to be. These two people are broken and they find whatever solace is left in their hearts by bonding with each other. That is all we need to know, all we need to experience in terms of any emotional depth. The reason for that is because everything else about the film is so strong. If anything this is a film in the vein of Bringing Up Baby or even His Girl Friday. I sincerely mean that. Those were films that sprung to mind while watching the film. Cooper and Lawrence have that wit and have that chemistry between them like Grant and Hepburn or Grant and Russell. They have numerous bickering matches that are just awesome to watch. Russell really builds strong, entertaining dialogue.

But of course all of that dialogue could be wasted in lesser hands, but Cooper and Lawrence really knock it out of the park. Both give spectacular performances with enough nuance and subtly to counter their over the top characters. I really felt their brokeness and struggle. Bradley Cooper is really starting to impress me with the projects he chooses and his acting chops. He is heading in a great direction I feel. And as for Jennifer Lawrence, well, I have loved her in everything since I first saw her in Winter’s Bone. Her talent is immense, and I think the fact that she was cast in this role was perfect. She is 22, yet she is mature enough of an actor to be able to evoke these dark feelings of a woman who has already seen the death of her husband after a few years of marriage. Most other 22 year old actresses are being cast as high school kids still.

Now as much as I enjoyed the film, I can usually find one or two things to nit pick about at the end of a film I really enjoyed. I wish I could tell you that this was not the case, but in reality there was one thing that really bugged me throughout the film here and that was the camera work. I am not sure what Russell might be trying to invoke with his style, but the camera was all over the place to the point that it started to become nauseating for me. Out of place zooms and camera movements all over the place. It really felt messy. But lucky for us, the rest of the film was a joy to watch. Really stellar stuff. It is hard to say Russell had much to do directing (other than those darn camera movements), but he must be given credit for his funny and touching screenplay and his ability to get the kind of chemistry and performances we see out of the leads Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. I seriously cannot wait to see every film Lawrence makes for the rest of her career.

***1/2 – Great

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