Friday, February 8, 2013

Silver Linings Playbook

Directed by David O. Russell.

2012. Rated R, 122 minutes.

Jacki Weaver
Chris Tucker
John Ortiz
Julia Stiles
Anupam Kher
Shea Whigham
Paul Herman
Dash Mihok
Brea Bee

We meet Pat Solitano Jr. (Cooper) as his mother Delores (Weaver) is picking him up from a mental healthcare facility. After a brief hiccup involving Paul’s buddy Danny (Tucker), they drive to their home in Philadelphia where they surprise his dad, Pat Sr. (De Niro). In short order, we learn Pat Jr. was sent away after a series of delusions culminated in a violent attack of the man his wife Nikki (Bee) was having an affair with. We also learn that he is obsessed with winning back her love despite the fact she’s moved away and has a restraining order out on him. Pat Jr. working extremely hard to prove himself worthy of her love while dealing with his demons ensues.

Through his unfiltered speech, therapy sessions and his family’s handling of him, Pat’s mental condition is thoroughly explored. In particular, we see the possible seeds of his problems through his father’s behavior. Pat Sr. is superstitious to a point of ridiculousness, even to his son. It’s part of what is evidently OCD. During the games played by his beloved Philadelphia Eagles remote controls have to be held a certain way, people have to sit in certain spots, etc. We know he’s prone to violent outbursts because we’re told he’s been banned from the stadium where the Eagles play after having been kicked out several times for beating people up. To show us this, the legendary De Niro gives one of his best performances in years. He’s fully a man stressed over his new line of business (basically, betting on Eagles’ games), exasperated by what’s become of his son’s life and beholden to his own artificial devices for creating luck. His interactions with Pat Jr. often turn confrontational.

Caught between the two is Delores. In the role of a mother supportive of both her men, sometimes to a fault she totally recognizes, Jacki Weaver does an excellent job conveying her character’s raggedness from being pulled to and fro. She tries to do right by everyone and often winds up little more than an enabler.

Then there’s Tiffany Maxwell. Played by Jennifer Lawrence. We quickly realize she’s as mentally and emotionally fragile as Pat Jr., but with a tougher shell. She’s the sister-in-law of another of Pat’s friends and a widow whose way of dealing with her issues is much to the delight of the men in the area. She also has occasional contact with Nikki and is willing to deliver messages to her from Pat Jr. making her invaluable in his eyes. Again proving herself a superior talent, Lawrence’s portrayal is note-perfect all the way through. Always at the appropriate times, she’s stand-offish, emotional, manipulative, confident and never quite stable.

Yes, the acting across the board is top-notch. If you need further evidence, every actor mentioned in this review, with the exception of Chris Tucker and Brea Bee, has earned an Oscar nomination for their work in this film. Truth told, Tucker is actually pretty good and Bee’s character has so little screen time she’s more a concept in Pat’s mind than an actual person. Aiding them mightily is the crisp dialogue, often improvised from what I’ve heard, and expert directing by David O. Russell. He’s made a cottage industry for himself of movies about contentious, not quite sane people. After all, his last movie was another wonderful flick full of folk who communicate at elevated decibels, The Fighter. This one inserts more comedy, but not of a crass or exploitive type. Laughs come from more true to life situations.

While we enjoy watching Silver Linings Playbook, we can’t help but spot the ending from very early on in the proceedings. That’s because at its core this is a date-movie, an unabashed romance. It does nothing if not march relentlessly toward the big kiss. Even this is preceded by our hero chasing down his true love after a wise elder tells him to go after her. This is pretty standard chick-flick stuff, but in David O. Russell’s capable hands it is far better than most of its ilk.

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