Thursday, 22 November 2012

Silver Linings Playbook


Being the closing stages of 2012, audiences brace themselves for the awards takeover; films of the highest calibre that offer sumptuous direction, sublime writing and staggering performances - films that are honestly aren't often as good as they are believed to be. Thankfully David O. Russell has dodged this troublesome bullet twice in two years; first with his brilliantly handled The Fighter and now with Silver Linings Playbook which not only acts as a beautiful companion piece to it's predecessor, but also stands tall as a typical 'Oscar film' which isn't typical at all...

 After being released from a stint in a mental institution, former History teacher Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) moves back in with his parents (Robert Di Nero and Jackie Weaver) following the collapse of his job and his marriage, although he's adamant his wife is still hopelessly devoted to him. Soon he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence); a sexy, seductive young widow who too is battling past emotional and psychological demons. The pair hit off a tempered, exhausted relationship built upon favours and the idea that both of them are worthy at a shot of supposed normality and indeed happiness.

 Going back onto that 'typical' remark; yes, films about characters dealing with mental trauma are the cake the Academy feed off, as are dramas about fractured, complicated family units, and even films about overcoming struggles and uncertainty. In fact on face value, Silver Linings Playbook seems so run-of-the-mill, so obvious when actually it might be 2012's hardest picture to pigeon-hole.

Still from Silver Linings Playbook (dir: David O. Russell, 2012)

 It's not a romantic-comedy as such, nor is it truly a drama, or a comment on illness and psychological behaviour; it's all of these things and heaps more. O. Russell who also penned the adapted screenplay from Matthew Quick's celebrated novel, has managed to formulate a film that is surprisingly bettered by it's tonally uneven state. It actually feels bipolar like it's characters; undecided, unpredictable and consequently, utterly engrossing. 

 Not a dull moment passes due to such a brilliant screenplay which is bound for Oscar glory - I'd put money on it, plus some of the year's best collective performances as well as a brilliantly supportive soundtrack, lovingly suburban cinematography and some supremely stylised direction. In short, Silver Linings Playbook has it all to offer it's spectator.

 O. Russell captures the film with a brilliant intimacy; you are there with the family in amongst the madness, the tenderness and the sheer frustration of the cards life has dealt. His film screens with bursting realism, yet it's hinged upon some of the year's funniest and snappiest dialogue. Usually a big laugh can drag you from the drama, but not here, instead the chuckles feel like nervous twitches; a comforting reaction to the suppressed mayhem that ensues within the Solitano household. 

 It isn't just Pat who clearly has issues inside the home, Pat Sr., played wonderfully by Di Nero in his best screen role for years, suffers with intoxicating OCD. Being Philadelphia's biggest Eagles fan, he risks his pride, money and welfare on their games because of his certainties in his compulsive betting routine. Plus Dolores, again dazzlingly handled by Weaver, has to deal with all of this oddity and she manages by unhealthily attempting to constantly keep the peace. 

 The film is very similar to The Fighter in regards to construction and screened substance - both films portray a unstable family, both present ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, and both have a honesty that only betters the viewing experience. Silver Linings Playbook's dancing plot elements are filmed and framed much like the boxing bouts in his last work - there are no cheesy montages, only moments captured with beauty and dedication.

Still from Silver Linings Playbook (dir: David O. Russell, 2012)

 The real Oscar money to grab at the bookies however is on the two central performances from Cooper and Lawrence. Playing Pat must have been a challenge; he's an emotionally tarnished, mentally distraught and fractured figure, someone who has to re-adjust and re-build. Cooper has never taken on such a weighted role before but you wouldn't believe it. This is undoubtedly a career-best performance and a career-making turn too - he will get nominated and it wouldn't surprise me if he grabbed the statue. Whilst one feels Joaquin Phoenix is the rightful owner for The Master, it's a delight to see just what Cooper is capable of. Now stop making those horrible Hangover films for goodness sake...

 Lawrence's performance on the other-hand is the scene-stealer. She absolutely dominates Silver Linings Playbook and continues to confirm why she's one of the best actresses of this generation. Her direct, bruising approach makes for frequently funny and uncomfortable viewing. This is probably her most complex role since her breakout performance in the masterful Winter's Bone and she offers the same raw power and finesse here, despite this being a significantly bigger budgeted and kinder film. Lawrence could have easily put the breaks on and still been applauded, but she turns Tiffany up to eleven and the results are dizzying. 

 Plus Chris Tucker is in this film. He's actually in a film that isn't Rush Hour. I know, it's amazing. It's like seeing a rare bird or something...

 Few films this year can provide an audience such heft and grit, yet such joy and wonder. O. Russell's Oscar 2012/2013 petition piece is a life-affirming, emotionally stimulating and blissfully joyous genre-hybrid that excites, electrifies and excels. Silver Linings Playbook is truly fabulous contemporary cinema.


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