Silver Linings Playbook, 2012.
Written and Directed by David O. Russell.
Starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Chris Tucker, Jacki Weaver and Julia Stiles.
After a stint in a mental institution, a former teacher attempts to get his life back on track but things get challenging when he meets a mysterious girl with problems of her own.
Silver Linings Playbook is something of an anomaly. It doesn’t fit into any obvious genre as it is part comedy, romance, drama, and character study, and takes place in a mental institute, family home, make-shift dance studio, ballroom dance hall, and is full of American Football references and rivalries. The film isn’t one thing or another and this is evident in the trailers and advertising, which do a terrible job of making this film look anything other than a mess.
Normally such a film would be unappealing and unrecognisable from the last cute/ditzy/quirky ‘opposites attract’ film, but Silver Linings Playbook works because it gets the four major principles of competent film making (Story, Character, Editing, Acting) right where so many films which cover similar ground fail. In doing so, the film is more than merely competent, but is certainly one of 2012’s most enjoyable.
The surprise of the film overwhelming success may come from the lack of expectations bestowed upon it. Before this, Bradley Cooper had yet to put in a truly good performance or even make a particularly great film; Robert De Niro had been collecting the pay cheque and seemingly picking roles out of a hat; director David O. Russell’s career had been far too varied in quality to even mention him as a modern great. All three have increased their stock with their output from this film.
Cooper has shown he is more than just a nice smile and needs to move on from The Hangover nonsense after next summer’s (hopefully final) instalment, because the performance he gives as a man suffering with undiagnosed bipolar is pitched perfectly; not too jokey or too serious (which goes with the balance of the film), he doesn’t try to go for the ‘award winning’ performance at the risk of over-stretching himself and it all feels very natural. The other main reason why Cooper looks so in control with his performance is that he has Jennifer Lawrence’s equally ‘unbalanced’ love interest to play off of. Their relationship isn’t the typical boy-meets-girl set up and a real sense of needing someone other than to tie the film up nicely comes across from the moment they meet. Both Cooper and Lawrence’s performances are perfect for this film and, crucially, their performances carry the film from begin to end and because of this the film never slips.
David O. Russell’s last film, The Fighter, was ridiculously over-praised and lauded by critic and award nominations when it was nothing more than a very average film with several excellent acting performances, far better than the story deserved. Comparing his choice of directorial style for the dancing scenes in this film to his, frankly awful, boxing scenes in The Fighter and you’d think it was a different man behind the camera. This film has a far more natural approach to family and conflict without the displaced style of action he showed previously.
The film also must be praised for bringing back Robert De Niro from the depth of the sub-sub-par action and comedy material he has attached himself to and is arguably his best film since 2001’s The Score (not including his minor role in The Good Shepherd) and he must get a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his work here. One can only hope he continues on a similar course from now on (he will be reunited with Al Pacino and Martin Scorsese soon) rather than making ‘Meet The Focking Grandkids’.
Silver Linings Playbook may end up in the year’s top 10 films thanks to its refreshingly natural and unpretentious take on film making. For 2012 it’s such a rare feat and must be acknowledged.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★