Review: 'Silver Linings Playbook' Has Troubled Love & Dark Laughs
by Ethan Anderton
November 30, 2012
Both Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence have had plenty of success in various arenas. While Lawrence's career skyrocketed after an Academy Award nominated turn in Winter's Bone and led to the lead in The Hunger Games, Cooper has been a sought after talent for years jumping around from comedies like The Hangover to action flicks like The A-Team, and more recently, dramas like The Words. But when it comes to Silver Linings Playbook, both on-screen talents step into uncharted territory as two unstable counterparts, each coming to terms with life and all the pitfalls thrown their way. The film is darkly funny, harrowing tale of love overcoming obstacles in the face of emotional immaturity and mental insecurity.
Cooper plays Pat Solitano, fresh out of a stint in the mental hospital following a violent fit of rage upon finding his wife Nikki in the shower with one of her university colleagues. Despite the better judgment and advice of Pat's doctor, his mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver) comes to collect him from the institution and bring him home under the watchful eyes of she and her superstitious and hard-to-please bookie father Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro). Right from the beginning, it's clear this relationship is a tense one as Pat's portrait leans against the wall on an end table while his brother Jake's (Shea Whigham) hangs proudly on the wall. It also doesn't help that Dolores brought Pat home without telling his father.
Within the first night of being back home, it's clear that Pat is not ready for life outside the hospital. His first task is to dive into all of the books his wife Nikki taught to her university students in order to prove himself somehow. This is just the first in a long line of actions and conversations that Cooper makes cringeworthy with an overly earnest and clearly unstable personality brought on by undiagnosed bi-polar disorder that he refuses to acknowledge. If there's a sliver of hope to even talk to or see Nikki, Cooper makes Pat's desperation seep through his every movement and word. It's not subtle, but it's by no means over the top. Pat is not right in his mind, and Cooper's performance is so good that you feel like a friend, helpless to intervene in his eventual downfall and disappointment.
But then hope (if you can call it that) arrives when Pat meets Tiffany (Lawrence), the widowed sister of his best friend Ronnie's (John Ortiz) wife Veronica (Julia Stiles). Immediately, they hit it off as two depressed and sometimes medicated people can. Complete with awkward, inappropriate conversations, uncomfortable outbursts and unpredictable behavior, the two begin to bond over meetings that can be considered dates in the most conventional sense of the word, but far from romantic to any rational person.
Lawrence shines as an irrationally spontaneous young woman always on her guard by being overly aggressive (especially in the sex department). But it's when Lawrence has to be vulnerable that her performance really takes off. Suddenly the role of Tiffany goes from being a cliche to a rich, provoking woman who might hold the key to Pat's healing. Though that doesn't mean she's without her own issues, mistakes and shortcomings to confront in her own time. Thankfully, both her and Cooper's problems aren't overwhelmingly dramatic, but make for some hilarious dark comedy that is sometimes brought on by the sheer discomfort of some scenes, thus proving how truly genuine these performance are.
Director David O. Russell allows the relationship between Cooper and Lawrence to blossom in extended conversations that he has adapted brilliantly from Matthew Quick's novel. Whether the two two are running on edge, side-by-side in the streets of Philadelphia or sharing a "meal" in a nearby diner, Russell has captured and bolstered two stunning performances that make for a film that is not only entertaining, but worthy of a few pulls at the heartstrings. Whether it's the intimate close-ups of a fast-paced conversation or the sultry wide shots of an increasingly intimate dance routine, Russell gives his stars the right frame and space to grow and radiate pure movie star caliber acting.
But it's not just Lawrence and Cooper that share great chemistry. Cooper's father-son dynamic with De Niro is both genuine and heartbreaking as Pat is so eager to please his father but discouraged by his judgmental personality (not to mention his overbearing superstitions and love for the Philadelphia Eagles). A pivotal scene involving almost the entire cast really throws the film into Best Picture territory as each actor has a chance to throw their performance against each other, but not in any competitive way. The result is an Grade-A ensemble scene that cuts to the core of our characters and sets the stage for a climax that is worthy of cheering in the theater.
Silver Linings Playbook didn't have a lot of buzz before the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival and has been sitting in limited release for about a month now, but mark my word, this is a crowd-pleasing film that can bring as many tears as laughs. While the performances from Cooper and Lawrence will certainly stay with audiences well after the credits roll, supporting performances from Weaver, De Niro, Ortiz and one recurring and impressive big screen return from Chris Tucker (no longer yelling in your face) are remarkable in their own way. However, none of this would be half as good without a stellar script and direction from David O. Russell, who has made a film that is far superior to his entry of The Fighter in last year's Oscar race, and just might be the director's finest work. Silver Linings Playbook is moving, funny and definitely one of the best films of the year.
Ethan's Rating: 9 out of 10
Reader Feedback - 6 Comments
Great review, this is deff the feel good movie of the year, it lived up to the hype and I absolutely love it
Hazedmind on Nov 30, 2012
Great film. Kinda felt sorry for Pat's mom, as the only character in the film without serious mental problems
Richie G on Dec 1, 2012
Ethan, I love your reviews and cherish your opinion, but i couldnt disagree with you more on this one. I'm trying so hard to justify the buzz and love for this movie since TIFF, especially since I live in Toronto and an aspiring critic here in Toronto. I was so eager to see this film especially since I missed it at TIFF but knew it would get, at minimum, get a limited release. I want to start, first off, by saying, I am in no way one of those critics or film enthusiast, that likes to go against the grain and just not like something that many are liking, to prove something to myself and others. I am quickly irritated by people with those characteristics. *MILD SPOILERS* With regards to Silver Lining Playbook, I found there to be NO chemistry between Lawrence and Cooper, amidst the fact that they are both mentally unstable. I found the film to be so cliched and predictable (from the letters to the appearance of Nikki), and the big kiss scene at the end of the film as well as the redemption and vilification of the two characters in the dance scene had no revelatory resonance with me at all. I simply did not care. I found that Jacki Weaver was not given her due potential, especially after watching Animal Kingdom and seeing footage for her upcoming Stoker. I found De Niro wooden but still capable of his De Niro-ness (much like Denzel with his Denzel-ness in Flight). I found the production itself rushed and the pacing of the film and editing to be quite lazy. I know what the film was trying to do with its editing and pacing in terms of getting the audience acquitted to feeling like the characters, but i felt that it failed. As each and every awards season approaches, I feel like the Weinstein's gain more and more momentum and power with their films and soon enough only THEIR films will be in contention of all the major awards come award season. I mean YES, The Master was a beautiful film and one that showcased their actors, but more than anything, it was a pompous and self-reflexive film of the massive ego PTA has and his God-given gift he is to film and cinema all together. But, one cannot deny his talent, and will not deny his excellent contribution to film in the forms of There Will Be Blood, Boogie Nights and Punch-Drunk Love. I couldnt agree more with your comment to Chris Tucker and his switch from acting that involves yelling (Rush Hour) and omits it altogether (Silver Lining Playbook). If I ever decide to re-watch the film, my feelings would be that the only real redemption I would get would be Cooper's character Pat Jr. Already coming out of the theatre, I found myself justifying his decisions and his performance. And yes, I do give credit where its due and Cooper has come a long way as an actor from Midnight Meat Train and Wedding Crashers to this. His performance is nuanced but dramatic, physical yet sneakily mental and unapologetic in many ways. Cooper could sneak in by with a nomination AT MOST, but faced against this years John Hawkes (The Sessions), Day-Lewis (Lincoln) or either leads in PTA's The Master, could and should crumble easily. Thank-you for your review Ethan, as well as your editorial on Thanksgiving that I throughly enjoyed. Please continue to provide readers with first-class readings and review as well as movie news. Love you guys at Firstshowing. Oh, and tell Alex, if he wants to second that notion of hiring someone on a whim again (as he did with you), I am trying desperately to find work. I would love the opportunity. And your move to NYC seems devilishly convenient. Happy Saturday! Great review!
Lucas Nochez on Dec 1, 2012
Hate Lawrence sooooo much...
David Darida on Dec 2, 2012
Great review Ethan!....I LOVED this film!. I am seeing it again this week which I rarely do. Jennifer Lawrence is fantastic and the chemistry is fantastic between Lawrence and Cooper.
Jules on Dec 2, 2012
AWESOME Review!! I agree 100%. The father-son relationship was perfect and Lawerence was charming as ever. Loved it! Thanks, Ethan!
sara on Dec 4, 2012
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