Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Silver Linings Playbook

An excellent family comedy-drama that cuts close to the bone with a great cast and strong script

     David O. Russell directed three of our favorite movies (Three Kings, The Fighter, and Flirting with Disaster – one of the best comedies of the past twenty years) and one of the few movies to put me to sleep in the past decade, I Heart Huckabees.  The Silver Linings Playbook is Russell’s latest, which is based on Matthew Quick’s PEN/Hemingway nominated novel, and it’s a very strong family comedy-drama
with texture that’s simultaneously romantic and ruthlessly pragmatic. 

Bradley Copper
     I’ve always thought Bradley Cooper was charming and snarky since seeing him in Hot Wet American Summer and on the short-lived series Kitchen Confidential in 2005 and afterwards.   He’s a revelation in The Silver Linings Playbook as Pat Solitano, a man with bipolar disorder leaving a hospital after an eight-month stay.  He was placed there because he found his wife taking a shower with another, older teacher and almost beat the guy to death.   Where this movie and Cooper earn their stripes is in never letting the viewer forget that this character is not only temperamental, but also physically volatile and dangerous.  There are a number of times when his gestures and intensity suggest a younger Robert De Niro, who is brilliantly cast as his father.  De Niro has a tough part because he’s playing a man trying to control his anger issues and somehow reconnect with a son he loves, but knows could fall apart at any moment.  De Niro has to stamp down his passion, but it bursts through in a number of different scenes, most poignantly in a final one with Cooper where the father lays everything on the line for the son even as he knows it could be ignored.  

Jennifer Lawrence Confronts Bradley Cooper
     Through a series of unassuming complications, Pat ends up practicing for a dance competition with Tiffany Maxwell, a young woman whose husband died suddenly, thereby leading her into a string of quickies.  So, a man without filters meets up with a woman who is incapable of dishonesty and if it sounds like the stuff of a cutesy romance with some eccentric touches in the manner of As Good As It Gets (where I just felt sorry for Helen Hunt’s character being stuck with Jack Nicholson’s; it might have been kinder if she’d ended up as his housekeeper), it turns out to be anything but.  Jennifer Lawrence is ferocious as Tiffany.  She’s been the best thing about other movies in which she’s appeared (Winter’s Bone, The Hunger Games), but she hasn’t been able to play against actors of such power embodying such outwardly regular middle-class, suburban characters.  

Jacki Weaver and Robert De Niro
as the Parents
     Russell does for the middle-class Philadelphia suburbs what he did for South Boston in The Fighter i.e. provide a glimpse into a subculture that is both familiar and idiosyncratic.  This is achieved with a strong script and a multi-ethnic cast that even includes Chris Tucker in a performance that uses his energy in a realistic context by neutralizing some of his more annoying mannerisms and Julia Stiles, Jacki Weaver, Anuparn Kher, John Ortiz, and Shea Whigham, who matches up well as De Niro and Weaver’s son and Cooper’s brother.

The guys wouldn't tell me the ending so I hope it all turned out OK.

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