In 2010, director David O. Russell ended his six year absence, and returned to the big screen with his knock-out hit (No pun intended) The Fighter, which managed a grand total of seven Oscar nominations, including wins for actors Christian Bale and Melissa Leo. Flash forward two years later, and his next movie is up for a whopping eight nominations, also setting a record as one of the only movies to ever have nominations in all four acting categories. That movie is Silver Linings Playbook. I’ve been anticipating this one for months, ever since it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Let me just say it didn’t disappoint. I’ve established before that I think Zero Dark Thirty is the best film of 2012, but if I had to pick a second favorite, this would be it.
Inspired by Matthew Quick’s book, Silver Linings Playbook follows Pat Solitano Jr. (Bradley Cooper), a man released from a stay in a mental institution after catching his wife cheating on him, and beating her lover to near death. He’s staying with his caring and worrisome mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver), and his obsessive compulsive Eagles fan father (Robert De Niro). Pat is hopeful, despite a restraining order, that he’ll be able to reconcile his marriage, and that’s only one of the problems that are running around in his mind.
As bad as Pat’s problems are, he’s got nothing on Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a recently widowed woman with whom Pat finds a kindred spirit. Tiffany strikes up a deal. If pat will compete in a dance competition alongside Tiffany, she’ll deliver a letter to his wife explaining about his current situation.
Much like our central character, the movie is understandably prone to certain mood swings, balancing out between personal drama and laces of dark humor. This is a very personal movie for Russell, known for his own history of off screen controversy. The ease with the dramatic pace of this movie, the issues of familial turmoil, our main character’s quest to reconstruct his life, the well timed wit, and a whole slew of fascinating characters is only part of what’s done excellently by Russell, who drew upon his own experiences and that of his own son in writing the script. The mental issues are met properly, but through Russell’s eyes, we also get to witness the vices of many of the other characters here, which ensure that the movie never gets boring.
Just as strong as he is a writer, Russell’s direction is as fantastic as always. If there’s one thing that can be said of the man, even in his weaker entries, he’s always had a knack for extracting terrific performances out of all of his actors. The lead character on paper is only as good as his actor, and Bradley Cooper expresses every believable ache out of Pat Jr. Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver are typically strong as his parents, while Chris Tucker works with a nice little comic relief role.
But I know who you all really want to ask me about: Jennifer. Lawrence. I can say absolutely nothing about her that hasn’t already been said. She steals this movie, serving as that perfect match for Cooper. The best parts of this movie are when we get to see the irresistible chemistry between these two, and Lawrence sells them all convincingly. This is such a peculiar, but very warm, sincere, and charming performance. One of her strengths is how well she conveys Tiffany’s emotion, but at certain times, she’ll even play it up to convey several at one time. She has one specific scene in a diner that left me unsure of how to feel towards her. Pitying, tickled, intimidated, uncomfortable? It’s not common when I find a performance like that that makes me feel so many different things all at once. Lawrence is far and away one of the best performances of the year!
As such, Silver Linings Playbook is one of the best movies of the year, allowing O. Russell to stretch his legs with a challenge, and unqualified success. It’s a sweet and meaningful little movie that should resonate deeply with many a member of its audience. Now if only Ernest Hemingway would stop triggering such negative reactions...
***** / *****