A Film Review of Silver Linings Playbook
By: Lawrence Napoli
This film was released in theaters December 25th of last year, and we are currently a week removed from the Academy Awards where Jennifer Lawrence officially, beyond any shadow of a doubt, was established as a serious, marquee actress who may be young and attractive, but has legitimate acting chops. Ms. Lawrence is the reigning best actress in a leading role for her part in Silver Linings Playbook, but I was surprised to see that this film still had multiple show times at the Regal Cinemas down the street. Films that come away with multiple Oscars do tend to get an extended run at theaters so in the post holiday months of lesser interesting releases, the timing was right to see the evidence. Spoiler alert: Little Miss Hunger Games deserved her Oscar gold as the film is a dialog driven drama that doesn’t have a lot of action or effects to produce entertainment through spectacle. This is an actor’s film and Ms. Lawrence joins a robust cast that brings a multitude of raw emotions to the forefront that is very entertaining, thoughtful and worthy of your hard earned dollars.
Are you talkin' to me?
David O. Russell is the writer/director of this film that deals with the difficulty of lesser mental disorders, and by “lesser” I mean anything that isn’t schizophrenia, multiple personality or Charles Manson-bag-of-cats-crazy. I’m talking about bi polar disorder, depression, post traumatic stress and diagnosed conditions of that ilk that don’t require the individual to be institutionalized to be treated. The approach Russell takes to the tenor of this story is much lighter than One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but is no less difficult to handle, especially from those affected by the collateral damage of a suffering individual. In fact, the story begins in a fairly heavy-handed manner to the point where I wondered how the humorous trailers that promoted this film would be integrated at all. Until it was and the balance between gravity and levity is maintained throughout which keeps the pacing up without feeling like it’s a dead sprint to the finish line thanks to moments of reflection.
Taking a time out to teach white people rhythm.
I found it interesting how Russell related the struggles of Pat (Bradley Cooper) and his family to the city of Philadelphia and its love/hate relationship to its various sports franchises. Individuals and the connection they feel with “their team” could very easily be described as a subtle psychosis that may lead to bad behavior and this leads to some very fun comic moments in the film which explores the ritual of the fan and its relation to team success. The connection between the people of Philadelphia and its teams is undeniable and that history of disappointment and despair is a significant correlation with Pat’s personal struggle which introduces a familiarity to the audience and an easy opportunity to feel sympathy for everyone. Regardless of someone’s race, profession, position and mental stability, sports can bring people equilibrium in Philadelphia, but not necessarily passivity. As with Pat, the animosity and potential explosiveness always remains, but finding a means to deal with those emotions via positive outlook, exercise and positive relationships is the order of the day and carries a hopeful message throughout the entire story.
I am not a crazy football fan!
The one weakness of this film happens to be the concept of character. The primary reason for this is that virtually every character is exposed for having some semblance of psychosis to them regardless of their perceived stability. Again, this leads to some funny moments, but also lumps everyone in the same boat which has an androgynous effect on the cast. For instance, the primary relationship between Bradley Cooper’s Pat and Jennifer Lawrence’s Tiffany is the engine for the whole movie, but they are both victims of stressful circumstance left volatile as a result of relationships ended under extreme duress. Sure, this leads the audience to identify this as an ironic “match made in heaven,” but also gives us a relationship between two characters that are too similar. Yes, every character deals with their feelings in different ways, but everyone releases their negative energy with violent outbursts. Perhaps it takes “crazy” to know “crazy,” but I would have liked a bit more separation.
If I scream louder than you does that make me a better actor?
This, however, does not take anything away from the exceptional performance by the entire cast. Every acting category for Oscar gold is represented by an actor from this film. Chris Tucker, back from a 5 year hiatus from Hollywood since Rush Hour 3, lends a novel contribution to a fairly white-washed cast. He doesn’t come close to approaching his comic genius of Friday or Rush Hour, but shades of his deliver are felt whenever he pops up on screen and they always inspire a smile. Jackie Weaver plays Dolores, the mother of the family who is clearly at her wit’s end when it comes to holding her family together and while her performance is very admirable, could easily be summarized by varying displays of “deer in the headlights.” Her performance is heartfelt, but debatable when it comes to her Oscar nomination. Most of you will remember John Ortiz from Fast & Furious, but his role as Ronnie is easily the most hysterical because he opens up to “crazy” Pat whenever he appears and he reveals himself to be a bit crazier as he shifts from successful family man to stress-induced-life-crushing-his-soul-man seamlessly. Anupam Kher brings some stability as Pat’s psychologist Cliff Patel, but his transition from respectable doctor to raucous Philadelphia Eagle fan is amazing. And I cannot forget Robert De Niro as the father, Pat Sr. whose Oscar nominated performance in a supporting role was a perfect balance of drama and comedy and has a very touching moment when he attempts to connect with his son when the frustration of his ailment reaches its peak.
These are not throw-away moments.
Bradley Cooper may not have won for best actor, but he is more than deserving of his nomination the effort he put forth in Silver Linings Playbook. His second collaboration with Robert De Niro required Cooper to run the entire gambit of human emotion, but he is required to be loud, obnoxious and aggressive for most of the movie. However, it is when his character makes a connection with his love interest, where Cooper’s ability to pull back and relay subtle moments of humility and self reflection where his true skill is on display. I did not particularly care for his Oscar clip showing one of his aggressive rants as evidence of his proficiency, but it gave the Academy Awards, as a show, a nice change of pace. Bradley Cooper is a fine leading man who will be considered for future dramatic roles, but I feel he needs a specific role to inspire a great performance similar to what Ray did for Jaime Fox’s career. Cooper may become a “great” actor one day, but he’s not quite there yet and there’s a difference between great actors and great performances.
Crazy, sexy, chemistry.
Jennifer Lawrence; ‘nuff said. What else can be said of this young actress who seems to be doing it all right in her career thus far? Despite her excellent performance in this film, I still maintain her nomination for Winter’s Bone as a complete and utter fluke, but what she gives in Silver Linings Playbook is the furthest from. Again, her character is mirrored by Bradley Cooper’s in many ways, but there is something to her particular gaze on screen. It is difficult to describe, but I feel her character’s eyes like daggers, but she balances this piercing effect with inept frustration and defeated depression. Yes, she still looks and seems far too young for Bradley Cooper in this film (especially at the end in her Dancing With the Stars outfit), but this sentiment is negotiable. What sold her performance as Oscar worthy was not the collective of scenes she shared with Cooper, but her extended scene of contention with Robert De Niro and she does not back down for a single moment. Lawrence matches De Niro’s aggression and feeds off the energy they share in the moment. Any other 20-something actress would have probably been intimidated into a lesser performance.
She's the real deal.
Silver Linings Playbook is many things as a film. It is a good drama. It features fine performances. It has some thoughtful social commentary. It is a great “date night” movie. But it is also breaks the mold when it comes to prototypical film demographics. Having seen this film in the theaters two nights ago, I was stunned to see the seats filled at 80% capacity. I was also impressed by the makeup of the crowd as well. Certainly there was a healthy compliment of middle agers and seniors, but there was an equally significant showing of younger/teen women in the audience and that is 100% attributed to Jennifer Lawrence. As she progresses in her career, I predict she will have this similar kind of barrier breaking effect that will draw more men to her romantic comedies and more women to her action films (X-Men: First Class/Hunger Games). This is perhaps the greatest value in attaching Jennifer Lawrence to your cast. Silver Linings Playbook is truly worth checking out. You will be entertained and you will be impressed.