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Film Review: Silver Linings Playbook (2012)


Looking for an immensely entertaining, emotional and truthful crowd-pleaser?  Look no further than Silver Linings Playbook (2012), director David O. Russell’s follow-up to The Fighter (2010).  With his sensitive yet sharp script, based on Matthew Quick’s novel of the same name, this romantic comedy lives up to its genre title with sincere romance, genuine humor and best of all it handles the drama of mental illness rather gracefully.  Furthermore, the film features one of if not the best all-around ensemble cast of 2012, with each actor putting forth their best effort in years or ever.  Silver Linings Playbook is an edgy, captivating and truthful adult romantic dramedy that will charm its way into your heart; indeed, it is one of my favorite films from 2012.

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It begins with undiagnosed bi-polar Pat Solitano coming home from an eighth month stint in a mental hospital after he viciously assaulted the man sleeping with his estranged wife Nikki, who since then has moved out, sold their home and put a restraining order on him.  Despite the obvious signs and a host of family members telling him their relationship is over, he is fully convinced he can win her back.  Along comes Tiffany, a sultry, clever and mentally volatile widow whom he meets through his best friend Ronnie and his bossy wife Veronica.  She agrees to help him sneak a letter to Nikki, so long as he becomes her dance partner in a big competition coming up.  They quickly form a close rapport, one that oftentimes borders on romantic, but make no mistake about Pat’s clear, albeit stubborn, intentions to reunite with his wife (i.e. working out and reading her classroom syllabus so they have more to talk about).  First and foremost, if he wants to reach the silver lining he so often talks about, he must cope with his inner demons, something easier said than done considering so many “crazy” people live around him, particularly his OCD, occasionally temper-bursting sports bookie father Pat Sr. who depends on him for good luck (among other, deeper feelings).

For a film centering around basically two lead characters with mental problems, Silver Linings Playbook is graceful without glossing over harsh truths.  It never feels disingenuous to the subject matter, though towards the end it could have gone a bit darker but opts to turn slightly conventional with tying up the romantic aspect of the story (though it hardly feels cliché or worn-out).  Instead, it manages to poignantly balance the serious drama of mental illness with the romance and comedy, largely thanks to Russell’s biting dialogue and two outstanding lead performances in a great ensemble cast.

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Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence show their wide-ranging talents here.  He inhabits Pat perfectly with all of his idiosyncratic ticks and penchant for having no filter as he is often direct to the point of being inconsiderate and rude.  Nevertheless, the audience still sympathizes with him, for the most part.  Likewise, Lawrence rises above her X-Men and Hunger Games blockbuster appeal and once again proves her remarkable acting abilities first seen in Winter's Bone (2010).  For a 22-year old, she plays the part much older, and thus she never seems out of place as a widow.  She nails Tiffany’s sharply intelligent wit/biting humor and volatile vulnerability, not to mention the character’s sensual nature.  Indeed, she is certain to garner an Oscar nomination and possibly win Best Actress, so long as Jessica Chastain doesn’t take it for Zero Dark Thirty.

The supporting cast is in top form as well.  Robert De Niro gives his best performance in at least a decade or two, reminding audiences he was one considered the best actor ever.  He rocks the part of Pat Sr., with all the character’s OCD mannerisms and even showing great vulnerability and care as a father to a troubled son.  Similarly, Jacki Weaver turns in a very good, earnest performance in a motherly role quite unlike her Oscar-nominated one for Animal Kingdom (2010); she is much more supportive and loving, rather than coldly manipulative.  You really feel for both Pat Sr. and Dolores as they watch their son implode.

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Other, smaller but still important and well-drawn supporting characters appear as well.  John Ortiz and Julia Stiles are a hoot as Pat’s equally troubled best friend Ronnie and his controlling wife Veronica.  Chris Tucker makes a rare appearance, his first in over a decade that is not dealing with the Rush Hour franchise – he plays Pat’s friend Danny, whom he met in the mental hospital and throughout the film seeks to get out of it.  Tucker is an absolute joy to see back on the big-screen; he is perfect as the quirky friend looking to always help out Pat.  Also, Pat’s seemingly stoic psychiatrist Anupam Kher adds deadpan humor to the proceedings.  Shea Whigham makes a solid appearance as Pat’s older, somewhat more stable brother Jake.  Paul Herman plays another bookie, who is “friends” with the Solitano family insofar as they have opposing favorite teams and are competitive.  Lastly, Pat’s wife Nikki does appear late in the story, and she is played by Brea Bee in a thankless, virtually dialogue-free role.

Russell has made a smooth, largely upbeat and stylish little flick that has great widespread appeal as a crowd-pleaser, though it remains in limited release over its (thus far) two month run.  The combination of Danny Elfman’s tender original musical score and a number of popular song titles, most significantly Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour,” makes for a fun, emotionally-involving time.  Masanobu Takayangi’s cinematography is not flashy but still engaging and immerses the audience into the story.  Russell is an eclectic but strong director, and this film feels like a mixture of other great indie-based directors, such as Cameron Crowe’s rom-com sincerity, Jason Reitman’s detailed direction, and Alexander Payne’s sharp dialogue – yet this is entirely a Russell film, one that harkens back to his older days rather than The Fighter.  Nonetheless, it might be one of his best and certainly more accessible productions.  Silver Linings Playbook delicately balances the drama with the romantic comedy conventions to provide a truly fresh entry into that genre, thanks in large part to the impressive acting from its leads and notable ensemble cast.  Seek it out, and you won’t be disappointed with this massively entertaining and surprisingly meaningful crowd-pleaser.

Silver Linings Playbook – 9/10

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2MP7A1k8Jr0&w=575]

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