Review: Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook
Written & Directed by David O. Russell
Starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver & Chris Tucker

Playing in NYC @ Angelika Film Center

There is a point in Writer/Director David O. Russell’s superb new dramedy ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ where aberrant protagonist Pat Siciliano (Bradley Cooper) barges into his unsuspecting parents bedroom, rambling belligerently over the unnecessarily negative climax of Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. He does not seem (or want) to admit to even the most acquiesced acceptance that sometimes the life of love does not pan out to the increasingly calculated epitome of (at least) his own deep-rooted existence.   Pat idealizes a life where he is granted the happiness he humanistically believes he deserves.

The inevitable crisis of the existential has long been a hallmark of Russell’s output being the certifiable dual threat that he is.  Arguably peaking with  ‘I <3 Huckabee’s’, his characters manage to consistently remain grounded in blue collar tenacity while taking on the caricatures frequently permeating our own veritable reality.  Perhaps the result of filmmaking’s own self-fulfilling prophecy, in that its ambition has always been its hyperbolic recreation of accepted truth, he is able to inject the Siciliano family and friends with a genial balance of eccentric means, as well as the all to frequent inpropitious ends which result.

In his finest and, far away, most demanding performance, Cooper’s woeful Pat is introduced being discharged from an 8-month psychiatric stint which he served as a court ordered plea deal in the brutal beating of his wife’s lover.  Convinced that upon his release, and subsequent, “improvement”, he will be able to win back his beloved Nikki (Brea Bee), Pat finds his silver lining (“excelsior”, as he calls it) in the maniacally structured pursuit of his conceived sole love, minor annoyances like a 500ft restraining order and a nosey probation officer not withstanding.

Pat’s life is surrounded by figures that may in fact be “crazier” then he is.  There is his consistently truant institutional best friend (Chris Tucker, where have you been since…’Friday’?), his certifiably OCD Philadelphia Eagles fan father (Robert De Niro, one the film’s primary pleasantries) and his tenderly oblivious mother who boasts the thankless responsibility of keeping the whole thing together (‘Animal Kingdom’ matriarch, Jacki Weaver).

In Pat’s determination he enlists the help of fellow societal malcontent Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) after having been introduced at a dinner hosted by best friend Ronnie (John Ortiz) and Ronnie’s suffocating wife Veronica (Julia Stiles, in another of the films strong yet appropriately limited performances), but Tiffany possesses her own eccentricities, the seeming lack of any internal filter being paramount amongst them.  Tiffany grieves for her dead police officer husband with a series of polyamorous encounters with “everyonein his former department; herself walking the same balancing act between self inflicted stagnation and overly anesthetized acceptance.

Tiffany’s silver lining (her ‘Nikki’) is now dance and she gives Pat a proposition in return for her favor.  What ensues between the manically compatible duo involves a covert delivery of a letter stating the depths of Pat’s continued devotion to his wife in return for his partnership in the upcoming local dance competition.

The dance between Pat and Tiffany goes far beyond the DIY dance studio in her garage apartment.  As one grieves and the other mopes, Lawrence and Cooper bring a distinct authenticity to the both there emotional volatility, as well as the tenderness that remains when they exhibit even the most nihilistic of behavior.

The revelation here is not Jennifer Lawrence as may mistakenly be thought.  Since being “introduced” in 2010’s ‘Winter’s Bone’, Lawrence has become on of Hollywood’s foremost members of the under 25 crowd.  She is one of those rare acting blessings where movie star glamour and real world grit synthesize with robust talent to create the decades most expressively endowed actresses.  Here she manages to balance the crazy, apathetic, sexy and aggravating pieces of Tiffany with a subtle tinge of confident authority.

Instead, the revelation here is Bradley Cooper who truly is given the opportunity to present the range of his abilities presenting a pleasant addition to a resume that happens to include the title of 2011 “sexiest man alive”.  Behind the blinding shade of pearl of a perfect smile and inescapable turquoise stare is an actor who has been given the role of a lifetime.  He presents Pat with sensitivity to an all too frequent diagnosis with a sympathetic hand with a non-accusatory diction.

With an ever so slight foray into the realm of corny half way through its third act, ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ may not be the best film of the year but its undeniable compassion make it one of our favorite.  As a director, Russell has a bit of a reputation of boorishness to say the least.  Stories of fisticuffs and misogynistic on set tirades follow him, yet his talents as a writer and director continue to expand and with this film solidifying an already solid filmography.  Adapted from the debut novel by Matthew Quick, Russell may be the only filmmaker able to keep this bedlam together.  With the help of supremely talented up and coming cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi’s (‘Warrior’, ‘The Grey’) sharp hybridity of pseudo POV steadicam, as well as spot on editing from Jay Cassidy and Crispin Struthers, ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ is a filmmaking success in all departments.

With ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ David O. Russell has given us a character study of the most underrepresented and overdeserving kind.  It is an objective look at the detriment of mental illness, the power of love and the support of family.  It is the screwball romantic comedy of the pharmaceutical age with a stellar cast driving a stellar film.

– Steve Rickinson


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