27 November 2012

Movie Review: Silver Linings Playbook


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Silver Linings Playbook
2012, 122mins, 15
Director: David O. Russell 
Writer (s): David O. Russell, Matthew Quick (novel)
Cast includes: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker, Julia Stiles
UK Release Date: 21st November 2012

 David O. Russell loves dysfunctional family units, “Silver Linings Playbook” simply providing him with the latest platform to indulge this recurring whim. Based on a superbly touching novel by Matthew Quick, “Playbook” is a strong dramedy with a selection of terrific performances. Minor alterations have been made to make the cinematic adaptation more palatable for mass consumption, but the spirit of Quick’s source has been respectfully retained, O. Russell using his offbeat sensibility and spiky cast to imbue proceedings with edgy soul. A superficial argument could be made that the film is a tearjerker in the mould of numerous Oscar contenders, but emotional truth and relatable character dynamics elevate “Playbook” firmly above sentimental award-baiting.

Pat (Bradley Cooper) has spent a hefty amount of time in a mental health facility, sentenced to serve time there after senselessly beating his wife’s lover.  His long-suffering Mother (Jacki Weaver) and Father (Robert De Niro) pull legal strings to get him back home, Pat’s first order of business being physical and intellectual embitterment so he might win back his estranged wife’s affections. Into his life stumbles Tiffney (Jennifer Lawrence), a volatile young woman recovering from her own war with depression, the pair forming an erratic but blatantly valuable connection. They eventually agree to help each other; in return for participating in a dance contest with her, Tiffney offers to aid Pat in making contact with his spouse. Pat is initially delighted by the arrangement, but others surrounding him are less sure that such an intimate bond with Tiffney will be beneficial to his recovery.

The acting in “Silver Linings Playbook” is stupendous, the talented ensemble doing great work under O. Russell’s assured guidance. Cooper continues to grow and display variation as an actor, here evolving on from the decent job he executed in last year’s “Limitless”. Capturing Pat’s subtle neurosis without sliding into overkill, Cooper uses his natural charisma to warm the central protagonist up, before applying defter thespian touches in order to colour him as an individual. It’s a layered and committed turn, the sort that should at least command moderate attention during the awards rush next February. Lawrence is possibly even better, blending distress and vulnerability with a hyperactive and consistently entertaining screen presence. Her and Cooper make a neat couple and enjoyable sparring partners, there’s genuine heat in the many scenes they share. De Niro and Weaver are both excellent as Pat’s parents, whilst Julia Stiles, Chris Tucker and John Ortiz all kick back comfortably in memorable supporting parts.

Quick’s novel was written in the first person, always a tough mechanism to depict onscreen, but “Playbook” manages to infuse Pat’s story with a personal touch, rarely resorting to hackneyed narration. This is largely achieved thanks to O. Russell’s sophistication as a film-maker, using seemingly insubstantial shots and little visual motifs to provide “Playbook” with a deliberately uneven pace; helping to authentically simulate the headache its leading character perpetually suffers through. The intimacy between Pat and Tiffney is sincere, at no point does the film utilise contrived clich├ęs to enhance or sell their relationship. The actors are sharp and the scripting grounded, even during the more overtly stock Hollywood moments it’s hard not to be swept away by their chemistry.

The picture builds to a formulaic climax, happiness left dangling in the hands of football (the Philadelphia Eagles have a huge part here) and the aforementioned dance competition. However up until that point “Playbook” refuses to take the easy way out, and even in the aftermath of such spectacularly corny plotting the movie still manages to cultivate a climax of resonant clarity. This diversion into more standard melodramatic screenwriting is disappointing and one of the few changes that actively works against the picture in comparison to its source, but otherwise “Playbook” provides a skilful balance of harrowing lows and blissfully natural highs.

Not much attention is applied to the scientific threat of mental sickness, instead “Playbook” finds its footing attempting to humanise a set of peculiar individuals. The illnesses that plague the corners of the picture are a merely a context to allow O. Russell to explore the fragility of our minds through the unlikely heroes, the film often juxtaposing the diagnosed and the supposedly sane with rewarding results. At no point does “Playbook” pander toward the academy by drawing out manipulative sobs or auctioning off the illnesses via soppy overacting. It is a dignified representation, subtly lurking under a drama more predisposed toward familial and romantic relationships.

The soundtrack is eclectic and soothing, suitably understated, allowing the performances and scenarios to dominate viewer attention. In many ways “Playbook” is the product of many talented but unselfish creative types coming together, each looking to support a greater whole rather than singularly steal the show. It’s a mature and engaging watch, a strong contender to rank amongst 2012’s very finest. 

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2012

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