Silver Linings Playbook Review

Silver Linings PlaybookTitle: Silver Linings Playbook
Director: David O. Russell
Writers: David O. Russell and Matthew Quick
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver
Rating: R
Runtime: 122 mins
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

David O. Russell is back with another venture attempting to bring gritty heart to the dysfunctional. In 2010, he attempted this feat in the sports drama genre with The Fighter. Now, he seeks to revitalize the rom-com genre similarly. But if Silver Linings Playbook teaches us anything, it’s that the Weinsteins have one hell of a hype machine over there and David O. Russell is forever indebted to Harvey Weinstein. Well, that and that this isn’t the last time we’ll see Jennifer Lawrence hoist that golden statue.

Now, that’s not to say the movie is bad. It’s not. But it also doesn’t live up to the hype surrounding the film around Oscar season. Much like The Fighter (read my review here), Silver Linings Playbook gets by on great acting that masks the story’s flaws and Russell’s missteps. Russell seems intent on exploring this disturbed/dysfunctional motif, and he excels at exhibiting these tumultuous lives. However, he has still yet to find that proper big picture/small picture balance needed to truly nail this story.

Silver Linings Playbook follows Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), who has just been released from a mental institution after nearly beating a man to death (though who can entirely blame him since he found said man in the shower with his wife). During his stint in the institution, Pat is diagnosed with bipolar disorder. After his serving his time, Pat is released under the custody of his parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver). Delusional and intent on getting his life back together, Pat’s aim is to reunite with his estranged wife Nikki (for God knows what reason), despite the warnings of his friends and family (and a restraining order). His plans start to change, though, when Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) enters his life. Seemingly crazier than Pat, Tiffany (who knows Pat’s ex-wife) proposes to help Pat reunite with Nikki in exchange for his help.

Once just a comedic heartthrob, Cooper has proven once again that he is legit as he turns in a wonderfully intense performance here. Cooper has proven himself to definitely be worthy of lead man status. Though this movie centers around Pat and Cooper is quite adept at carrying the film, the real glory here goes to Jennifer Lawrence. Absolutely deserving of her Academy Award, Lawrence continues to impress, showing us once again why so many saw such great things for her after Winter’s Bone. Lawrence proves that she can go toe-to-toe with greats like De Niro in this movie, and even best him. Aided by sharp and witty dialogue, Cooper and Lawrence have pleasant chemistry on-screen. Their radical performances do well to add to the grittiness of this portrayal of mental disorder.

With great performances from his leads (and supporting actors), David O. Russell definitely has a knack for going behind closed doors to portray the everyday life of dysfunction, using a sensitive direction which allows us to see the compassion and unity of such a raucous family. It’s his attention to detail (like Pat’s mood swings or his over-the-top reaction to reading Hemingway) which really allows his characters to come to life and provide a chilling realism as we explore this world of mental illness. It’s here, though, that Russell falters.

The director’s focus on detail seems to take away from this ability to wrap up the whole. A “can’t see the forest for the trees” problem, if you will. Much like with The Fighter, Russell once again mishandles the lead here. Whereas in The Fighter he made the mistake of focusing on the family too much, thus giving us no real connection to the main character. Here he goes in the opposite direction. While the focus remains squarely on Pat, Russell is too focused on showing us the symptoms of Pat’s condition rather than his own humanity. Russell should be commended for his efforts in tackling such a flawed protagonist, but the Pat character tests our patience and begs for too much forgiveness from the audience for us to ever sympathize with him. We’re never allowed to connect enough with the man himself and his tender side, thus we never care if he gets the girl. Instead, we’re merely lulled into apathetic anticipation as the previously unique spin on the genre descends into cliche rom-com material for a third act that teaches us that dancing and love cure all…even mental disorders.

If you can manage to scrape past all the hype surrounding this film and watch it on its own merits, then there’s definitely something to enjoy here. This fascinatingly awkward romantic dramedy has a certain charm to it, which makes it a refreshing installment to this tired genre until it pulls off its mask in the somewhat disappointing third act. Despite Russell’s missteps in handling these characters on the larger scale, the phenomenal performances from this great ensemble cast prove worth the watch alone. Though Silver Linings Playbook has its flaws, it’s still a fascinating ride which handles this darker rom-com material infinitely better than 2010′s Love and Other Drugs.

 ★★★☆ 

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