The dual-review film criticism site: first a spoiler-free review, then an in-depth Alternate Take.
Silver Linings Playbook

Reviewed by Owen Weetch.

Director David O. Russell
Length 122 mins
Certificate 15 / R
Rating *********-
Filmmaking: 5  Personal enjoyment: 4

Photo from the article Trailer.

David O. Russell’s latest film, Silver Linings Playbook, is a droll and thoroughly charming romantic comedy with an infectiously resolute optimism. Its unabashedly formulaic ‘damaged goods find each other at baggage claim’ concept is vivified through assured plotting, exemplarily sensitive character work, and a lightness of touch which never condescends to trivialise that damage.

Pennsylvanian Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) is a high-school teacher with bipolar disorder who has just been released from a mental health facility following an attack on a man who was sleeping with his wife. Pat comes to live with his parents, Dolores (Jacki Weaver) and Pat Sr. (Robert DeNiro), and initiates plans to win back his wife Nikki, who has filed a restraining order against him. While trying to get his life back on track and search for “silver linings”, Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), an unemployed widow suffering from depression who also happens to be friends with his wife. In return for Tiffany’s promise to covertly deliver a letter to Nikki, Pat agrees to enter into a dance competition with her.

The above synopsis, read cynically, could suggest that the opening sequences’ emphasis on therapy and mental health issues sets a more interesting course than the film eventually follows. This would be to do the film a disservice. It would underestimate the ways in which the protagonists are treated with equanimity, and fail to note that every beat of the story grows organically from its characters’ disorders and how they have chosen to cope with them. The script moves quickly, breezily, and sometimes painfully. While it could be argued that the film’s few clumsy moments stem from an overreliance on genre trappings, so do many of its strongest. As the film - which is self-aware rather than self-referential - hopscotches to and fro from rom-com to sports movie, and sashays back and forth from dance movie to Christmas movie, it charts a framework as comforting for the viewer as its troubled leads are for each other.

The performances are pitched perfectly. Cooper problematises the easygoing charm upon which a great deal of his star persona has been built. He provides something more complicated and affecting, so that the charm begins to appear as more of a conscious project and results in an exercise in empathy rather than satisfaction for the spectator. It is Lawrence, though, who is the standout. Tiffany is a strange, snarky presence, with Lawrence’s performance unaffectedly and hilariously alternating between weariness and deadpan. Weaver and DeNiro’s support provides the film a finer emotional texture that further saves it from a sense of formula. DeNiro is something of a small revelation, combining the unpredictability showcased in his roles for Scorsese with the sturdiness of his recent Focking about into something understandable and, finally, human. His character’s obsessive support for the Eagles football team places Pat Jr.’s behaviour on a continuum, complimenting the film’s efforts to understand and bridge rather than sensationalise and compromise. Weaver’s quiet performance - so quiet that it’s been left off of most of the film’s promotional posters - as the woman who selfishly takes this project on in her roles as both mother and wife is in many ways the most moving in the film, all the more powerful for its lack of ostentatious display.

Silver Linings Playbook is an earnest film that accentuates the positive in the face of its ever-present inverse and asks the spectator to do the same. It’s smart and hilarious, gratifyingly infused with a sense of earned warmth.

Alternate Take to follow soon…

This review was published on November 27, 2012.

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