Friday, December 28, 2012

The Silver Linings Playbook

Your tolerance for David O. Russell's The Silver Linings Playbook will depend upon how long you can endure the movie's manic energy and its habit of having characters engage in loud, declamatory conversations about how they're feeling and what they need. In the opening scenes Pat (Bradley Cooper) is taken out of a mental hospital by his mother (Jacki Weaver) and brought home to Philadelphia. Pat has been away for eight months after a breakdown that has (for the moment anyway) put his marriage in jeopardy and cost him his job; his dad Pat Sr. (Robert DeNiro) isn't sure Pat is ready to come home. Bradley Cooper's performance gets better the better Pat gets. In the early scenes Pat, who resists taking his meds and flips out when he hears his wedding song, seems more irritated than manic and it's difficult to imagine anyone being afraid of him until he strikes his parents while searching for his wedding video. Russell doesn't try to jazz up this scene with edits or music, and it's exactly as disturbing as it needs to be. After Pat hits bottom and begins to really work on his recovery Cooper is much stronger; he has a chance to display the decency that makes him an ideal center point for the comic nonsense of the Hangover movies.

There's another damaged soul in The Silver Linings Playbook. Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) is a friend's widowed sister-in-law whom Pat meets at an awkward dinner table scene where the two compare antidepressant dosages. David O. Russell writes too many conversations that could only occur in movies; I didn't believe Tiffany would be quite so free with the story of the behavior that got her fired, though Lawrence is magnetic in the scene. Indeed it's Tiffany's need for connection that gives Playbook its heart. We don't quite realize how much hope she has placed in Pat until a late scene when it appears Pat's wife may have reentered the picture. With one line to Tiffany's sister (Julia Stiles), Lawrence manages to convey just how close Tiffany is to coming alive again and how far having her hopes dashed would set her back. It's the kind of scene that gets replayed at awards shows. Jennifer Lawrence makes the movie work in spite of the way Russell can't help himself at times when it comes to pulling the movie's emotional levers. Lawrence both jolts the movie and settles it down in a way that I can't quite compare to anyone else. though many others will try. The rest of the story is a contraption involving the obsessive Philadelphia Eagles fandom of Pat Sr. (DeNiro does his most interesting work here in some time) and a ballroom dancing competition that thankfully Russell doesn't require Pat and Tiffany to have to win. The Silver Linings Playbook is a big-hearted mess, but  a winning one; it's probably Russell's best film since Three Kings and a strong argument that Jennifer Lawrence is more than just the next big thing.

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