Review: Silver Linings Playbook

David O. Russell’s follow up to his Oscar-grabbing The Fighter has just been nominated for a bunch of Oscars, so is the director on a mission to fill his cabinets with gold?

Unfortunately Silver Linings Playbook does seem ripe for Oscar nominations because of its predictability.  What we have here is a tale about family and friendship which reinforces a positive message, and characters with emotional baggage which requires teary-eyed acting.  Play the Oscar showreel!

Ok, I’m being too harsh, Silver Linings Playbook is a good film, directed and acted with precision.  It’s very similar to The Fighter in its portrayal of close family ties that can stretch to breaking point but remain strong as long as the family pull together through stormy weather.

We join Bradley Cooper’s character as he leaves a mental institution to live with his family and deal with the restraining order put against him by his wife, who conveniently remains off-screen for most of the running time.  She’s off-screen because Cooper has to spend the film dovetailing into a cute relationship with Jennifer Lawrence’s character, who is equally emotionally unstable.

Cooper and Lawrence show great chemistry, playfully throwing barbs at each other in unflinching manner, much to the horror of their family and friends.  On this count, I feel the film hits its strongest points, there’s something very real (and yet somehow Joss Whedon-esque) about the awkward exchanges of characters suffering from conditions like bi-polar, and the frustration of their loved ones in trying to maintain a working relationship with them.

I’m wearing a bin liner, cradling a football, and carrying a letter. Method acting. Try it sometime.

Incidentally they’re not the only characters with issues, as the film throws in quite a few more, depicting a country of people suffering their whole lives from many different stresses that cause things like OCD.  The film doesn’t really explore the hows and whys, but populates the landscape as if to say, “there’s no such thing as normal people, we’re all a bit crazy”.

As Cooper continually tells himself he’s going to get his life together and be back with his wife, he’s inextricably drawn towards Lawrence, but can two messed up individuals possibly make things work?

This film features a dancing competition at the end.  That’s all I need to say really.  You can see every single plot point coming a mile away, and that’s what caused my cynical attitude at the beginning of the review.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I genuinely enjoyed every minute of this film, but my enjoyment stems from those rare instances where I take comfort in liking something I know inside out.

Like when I watch an action B-movie, I know what the evil plot is, and who is going to be betrayed, and with Silver Linings Playbook I know which direction the story is heading, and that these two misfit characters are going to ‘heal’ each other.

There’s nothing wrong with that, wanting anything else from the film would be a weak criticism, you should judge the film for what it is, not what you want it to be.  I guess I’d just feel a bit disappointed if it won out over Lincoln, Django or Life of Pi.  But not much, these awards shows don’t mean anything to me, and I have no connection to anyone remotely involved in the making of them.  (why am I even talking about them then?  ’cause I’m crazy!)

Silver Linings Playbook also stars Robert De Niro who comes alive to show us he’s still got the acting goods.  A brilliant performance full of vitality and good humour.  Chris Tucker also redeems himself with a carefree appearance as a fellow ex-patient who becomes a friend of the family.  Hard to believe he’s not been in a non-Rush Hour film since Jackie Brown in 1997!

I forgot to mention there is a brutal action scene that rivals John Woo half-way through the film...

I forgot to mention there is a brutal action scene that rivals John Woo half-way through the film…

The story is predictable, you can see every plot point coming from a mile away, but its written so deftly, the humour so frank, and acted so well by Cooper who’s come so far this last decade, and Lawrence whose career is also exploding with success, that you can excuse it.

Maybe the story’s all just a delusion, a fantasy.  Real people suffer these kinds of issues, and they don’t get to dance their problems away, but at one point Cooper laments sad endings.  Another character argues that they prepare people for real life.  Well, sometimes real life is so unreal, we do see silver linings where we least expect them.

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