Movie Review – Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Silver Linings Playbook, 2012.

Written and Directed by David O. Russell.
Starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker and Julia Stiles.

SYNOPSIS:

After being discharged from a mental institution, a former teacher moves back in with his family and attempts to get back together with his ex-wife. His problems seemingly escalate when he meets a troubled dancer who lives down the road.

Like The Fighter before it, Silver Linings Playbook is a movie that focuses on the dysfunction of a family who are heavily integrated into a local sporting tradition. Unlike The Fighter, it’s not focused on characters struggling with the weight of winning world titles or Super Bowls. It is, instead, all about characters just trying to survive within the confines and comforts of their own homes.

Subject matter, tone and aesthetics can also be compared to director David O. Russell’s previous effort, as well as other movies he’s made (though from what I’ve heard about Spanking the Monkey, Russell’s definitely made a move toward crowd pleasing). Another aspect David O. Russell seems to bring out in stories is the everyday humour created by these clashes. How do families stick together when they fight so?

Silver Linings Playbook is about family. Pat (Cooper) has just been released from a mental institution. He makes it home trying his hardest to see the bright side of life, despite his entire world being torn apart by his own actions. His wife left him, he’s lost his job, he’s been prescribed medication he doesn’t want to take and his family are as worrisome and clingy as leather trousers.

In the process of trying to get back to a normal routine, he meets Tiffany (Lawrence), a woman who while not deranged, is certainly struggling with her own problems. Together, they must participate in a dance competition. Pat’s taken out of his comfort zone but, in a move that’s a little cliché, it is only from moving out of his comfort zone that he can learn about and become the best version of himself.

While the premise for the finale isn’t original (to save the [blank], they must do well in a dance competition), it’s handled in a majestic, dramatic way that actually serves the plot as opposed to being an excuse for pretty people to dance their troubles away. That’s what the best directors do, taking something familiar and putting a new spin on it. How do two decidedly amateur dancers get their win in a competition full of professionals? The struggles don’t come from the actual dancing, not really. They come from the clash between Tiffany and Pat’s father.

Pat Sr. (De Niro) possibly represents some of the things republicanism stands for, and how it is perceived in the modern day. He’s a little uptight, a little short with the subject of change and (this is a metaphorical stretch, by the way) his money is his own, to do with as he likes.

Pat Sr.’s objections to his son’s behaviour, and the constant bickering and fighting that goes on between them both, seem to be a reaction against the republican way of thinking. Why must everyone be convergent to Pat Sr.’s way of thinking?

Pat doesn’t have a filter between what he thinks and what he says. While this sounds like the lead up to those obnoxious sitcom characters everyone’s supposed to love for their rebellion, in this case it leads to realistic actions and reactions. But, just like the things Pat says, the film itself can sometimes be a little on the nose. The film is also about how people shouldn’t necessarily conform and while this isn’t the most original theme or subject to talk about, it would perhaps work better if it spoke for itself. That’s probably the biggest problem that gets in the way of Silver Linings Playbook becoming an instant classic and a still-great film.

The movie is full of staples that make David O. Russell’s films accessible and funny and would be a solid entry into anyone’s filmography. The performances he gets from his cast are what raise the movie to a higher level. Bradley Cooper demonstrates the mixture of fast talking charm and humour he’s shown glimpses of, while showing more range as Pat struggles with his positive mantra.

Jennifer Lawrence gives Tiffany the perfect balance of steadfast calm and outlandish energy, probably booking herself a place in the Academy Award nominations. Robert De Niro comes out of what people see as his recent funk (see That Last Focking Movie) to give a nervy, anxious performance. Everyone plays their parts well (and it’s nice seeing Chris Tucker do something other than open his eyes wide and yell at everyone).

Ultimately, Silver Linings Playbook is a solidly directed movie, with a range of fantastic and at times understated performances. The story and narrative seem to happily help the characters along in their respective journeys, giving the film an almost holiday feel. Expect to see it vying for the major awards next year.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★

Matt Smith