Film review: Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook
The Weinstein Company, Mirage Enterprises

STARRING Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Anupam Kher, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker
WRITTEN BY David O. Russell, based on The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
PRODUCED BY Bruce Cohen, Donna Gigliotti, Jonathan Gordon (Executive), George Parra (Executive)
DIRECTED BY David O. Russell

SHOT BY Masanobu Takayanagi
EDITED BY Jay Cassidy
MUSIC BY Danny Elfman
DISTRIBUTED BY The Weinstein Company

Screened 2012-11-15

“The House of Yes/No/Maybe”

Silver Linings Playbook features an extremely energetic and intelligent man named Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), the “undiagnosed bipolar.” Pat has just been released from a mental institution where he was held for eight months after beating to near-death the unlucky soul he discovered in the shower with his wife, Nikki – and just saying the name ‘Nikki’ cannot help but inspire foreboding rumblings, an unholy intonation, once we understand what it does to ultra-sensitive Pat. Having lost his professorship and his residence, Pat is taken into the Philadelphia home of his loving parents, played by Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver, where dialogue is exchanged with the overlapping, ceaseless New England variety that you’d expect in a Woody Allen flashback (Russell’s is more difficult to follow). The parents are very much Russell creations as it’s hard to imagine working class “folks” (a word political candidates are barred from ever using again) remaining so supportive and open-minded of their filterless, often irrational, always emotional 30something son. Pat, now obsessed with self-improvement (it is a Russell film), jogs and sees his friendly Indian therapist and things are going just fine – until he runs into Tiffany, played by Jennifer Lawrence, an intimidating creature who seems to speak the same esoteric language as Solitano (“We don’t lie like the others”). Their first meeting ranks among the film’s best scenes, if not its best, and when Cooper and Lawrence inhabit the same space you do not want their scenes to end.

Tiffany makes the mistake of uttering the N-word – that’s Nikki – when she offers to deliver a message to her from Pat, though you’re never quite sure if Tiffany and Nikki are actually acquainted at all. And since Tiffany will not do something for nothing, she twists Pat’s arm into rehearsing a dance routine she’d like to premiere at a local sort of “Dancing With the Stars” event – about as contrived a finale as they come. But the primary emotional plot hurdle which confronts the main characters is each’s obsession with bygone lovers and a wild, adolescent idealism that keeps them tethered to intangibles. Romantic comedies tend to get away with any amount of fancy when it comes to neurotic bad behavior in the name of The Big L; truth be told, from minute one we’re just waiting through manufactured conflicts which separate the star-crossed loons. Love at first sight can be a tough sell, though I find the tougher sell to be the one where the gorgeous girl with the incredible personality obsesses and stalks the resistant male. If it weren’t Russell doing it…

In-between scenes which advance the nigh-existent plot are moments where either Pat or Tiffany are emotionally bursting, and thanks to Russell’s intelligence and his talents’ verve the film remains quite entertaining throughout. This is thanks to Russell’s command of comedy, a discipline most influenced by momentum and timing, two factors which are seldom abused or abated in his films – lucky in this case because a momentum dip would make the film just unwatchable enough. This momentum extends to Russell’s camera which is perpetually active and alive, channeling the inner lives of his dynamic duo – though at times things do feel a mite too schizophrenic. As for the actors: Jennifer Lawrence’s penetrating eye contact, brutal honesty and emotional vulnerability make her absolutely captivating from the moment she comes onto the screen. She sells the film, as if Bradley Cooper’s very entertaining and complex performance isn’t enough to sustain us (it is). And after seeing Lawrence kick as much ass as a woman could in The Hunger Games, I’m thinking there’s nothing she can’t do. Did I mention she’s drop-dead gorgeous?

It’s not a coincidence that thinking enough about this film and Russell’s work led to me to the concept of Subjective Validation (or is it?), one my forked tongue has been on the brink of identifying for some time now. What is Subjective Validation? It’s what happens when a person says, “It’s cloudy? Of course it’s cloudy when I’m feeling like this!” or the abhorred “Everything happens for a reason,” primarily intoned by those who got pregnant before turning 21. The tagline on the film’s poster, and Tiffany’s repeated line, is “watch for the signs” – you know, the way the Philadelphia Eagles would do extremely well whenever Pat and Tiffany occupied the same space. Russell is clearly a very sensitive soul, which is great, yet he also must be a vulnerable fellow himself. This film, like Huckabees, is littered with what I’d call “the language of self-improvement” (this is at least half of the private language shared by Pat and Tiff). Paraphrased par example: “Yeah, I was a slut. Not anymore. But I like that part of me. That dirty part. Can you say as much for yourself? Can you forgive that much?” This is not a criticism; the nice thing about this quality of Russell’s is his empathy for his characters, for seeing the bright side of even the thoughtlessly oblivious players like the role of Julia Stiles (an actress so talented I could conceive of her also playing Tiffany). Since Russell likes people so much, his films are entirely rooted in the charm of performance. Russell is all about good vibes, and only occasionally does this induce eye-rolling. Just be thankful he has a healthy, hearty sense of humor; taking self-discovery and enlightenment too seriously might result in products which look a little too much like, oh, The Celestine Prophecy or Spellbound, and no person’s eyes should be induced to roll that far.

written by David Ashley