By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Chris Tucker and Julia Stiles
Silver Linings Playbook is one of those movies where there was a preconceived perception of it before the film was even released. The Weinstein Company’s decision to roll it out very slowly (Pulp Fiction style) has paid off in dividends, as now everywhere you turn, there is a good word or two said about it. The question I had going into my screening was if all this fantastic word of mouth is warranted. After all, I am pretty iffy on David O’Russell (even though The Fighter was fantastic, I had very mixed feelings about 1999’s Three Kings.) And I was not sure if he could get the right combination of drama and comedy for Silver Linings Playbook to fully work. The story of a man who just gets out of a mental hospital and tries to win his ex-wife back is not exactly something that makes me think of it as a must see plot. And I have never been a big fan of Cooper’s films or performances. So, this film had an awfully big mountain to climb. Would it reach the top? I am happy to say that for the most part, its cylinders are pretty seamless. Cooper successfully transcends any hints of his Hangover, and Lawrence once again proves that she is great at taking on any role. However, in this critic’s opinion, Silver Linings Playbook’s best performance was by a guy who once gloriously asked a mirror if it was talking to him.
Silver Linings Playbook is at its best when exposing its character’s vices. And there are no shortage of which that are shown to us. Cooper’s is at the film’s forefront. He plays Pat, who at the beginning of the movie is seen getting out of a mental facility after an event of nearly beating the man who his wife cheated on him with to death, put him there. Cooper’s exuberance is magnetic, and the way he is determined to get back together with his wife comes off as both sad and enlightening. You can’t help but smile when he says that he is using negativity as fuel, and frown when he gets reminded of the restraining order against him, brought forth by his ex-wife. This role is not an easy one to pull off. But, I was enjoying seeing his mind at work. Lawrence, whose praise for her role in this borders on annoyance, proves here that all of it is warranted. Her voice is raspy, and her character of Tiffany’s introduction to Pat may rank up there with the most awkward introduction in the history of film. You look in her eyes and know that behind them, there is darkness that ranks up there with the color of her consistently black shirts. And her vice is revealed, as she is a recent widow. Again, all of this is hard to pull off, but combined with their onscreen chemistry, the performances by both Cooper and Lawrence makes Silver Linings Playbook impossible to look away from.
Don’t get me wrong: I loved the work displayed by Cooper and his garbage bag running. It was intriguing peeling the onion known as Tiffany’s life & real intentions. However, out of all these great onscreen appearances, I was mostly drawn to De Niro’s Pat Sr. (father of Cooper’s character.) After years of being stuck in big paycheck little integrity roles like Jack Byrnes in the next is worse than the last Fockers films, De Niro started to show some of his old candor in a little seen film from last year called Being Flynn. Here he borders on ingenious. Upon his introduction, Pat Sr. is stuck in a debate about his beloved Eagles. And it never lets up, as recorded tape upon recorded tape is revealed, as well as his vice. Everyone knows someone like De Niro’s character. Someone whose well-being, both mentally and physically, rests on whether their favorite sports team wins a game. And it is almost tragic how we see De Niro look and feel as vulnerable as he is shown to be here. At one point, him and Cooper go at it, and I was tempted to look away as we realize we are watching two very disturbed people who are supposed to love one another fight. Those old Taxi Driver style acting chops are once again obvious, and I couldn’t have been happier. It was also nice seeing Tucker show up minus Jackie Chan. Tucker, whose character’s arc is one of the few that gets the short end of the stick, is excellent. He has the hard task of bringing light-heartedness to a heavy-handed script. And the fact that he was able to pull it off makes me look forward to his next onscreen appearance as opposed to when I was dreading them in his Rush Hour days. Even Stiles, in her very limited screen time, impressed me as the person that gets the Lawrence/Cooper portion of the film rolling.
The film is not without its faults. While the acting and directing are almost flawless, I feel the film’s script (also by O’Russell) was not always on par. In addition to the already mentioned Tucker character, there is an at the outset intriguing relationship established between Cooper and his psychiatrist that slowly degenerates into a silly one. However, for each time O’Russell’s script flubs, he makes up for it in developing things such as the anticipation for what will happen when Pat and Nikki (his ex-wife) eventually meet back up. Fantastically done, it is once again a well acted sequence that leaves a pretty satisfying after taste. And that is how I would characterize Silver Linings Playbook as a whole. It is a very good human story that borders on being great. I would recommend you watch it and enjoy each of the characters’ journeys to realization. There are better stories out there, but I would be hard pressed to find any that are more enlightening.
4 out of 5