Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Silver Linings Playbook

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro, Directed by David O. Russell.  (120 min.)

Silver Linings Playbook may not be the best film of the year in a traditional sense.  It is not a grand epic or an historical docu-drama or something profound and transcendent.  But it is easily one of my favorite films of the year, because it is honest and true to itself.  It is also edgy, involving, humorous, at times very touching, at times very manic in its energy.  It all works together.  I suppose some cynics might point to certain aspects of the story to try and knock it down a peg, but I find this a very hard film for anyone to not like. 

At the center of David O. Russell's film stands Pat (Bradley Cooper) who we first meet as he is being taken out of a mental institute by his mother after the court-allotted 8 month sentence.  It seems Pat has always been bi-polar, undiagnosed until he caught his wife with another man and sent that man to the hospital.  His wife has since put a restraining order on Pat, but he ignores that because he is determined the two of them will reunite.  He works feverishly to convince himself he is better and doesn't need medication (even if it's clear he does), and has lost all that weight he thinks drove his wife away.  Which is why he spends a majority of the film jogging in sweats and a trash bag. 

Pat moves back in with his mother and his loving, concerned father whose obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles he uses as a way to communicate.  His father is played by Robert DeNiro in some of his finest work in over a decade.  Pat's mother and father watch him closely, worry at every turn he will explode once again even though he assures them he is fine.  He is "staying positive."  Nevertheless, certain triggers and obsessions send Pat back into brief moments of rage.  Cooper plays Pat with such tense, bottled-up intensity he seems like he is a split second away from throwing a chair.  But what he is doing is he is working desperately to channel his anger and manufacture it into some sort of positive energy.  He thinks his plan is going along swimmingly until, one night at his friend's house, he meets Tiffany.

Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) has her own troubled past which I won't mention here.  She is the sister of Pat's friend's wife, and is struggling to figure out how to make herself better.  Her history gave her a bit of a reputation around the neighborhood, and when Pat and Tiffany begin palling around everyone seems concerned.  But Pat is not there to romance Tiffany, he uses her for certain things, not malicious at all.  But Tiffany is wise to it and coerces Pat into being her dance partner at a local dance competition.  This is where the friendship between Pat and Tiffany begins to blossom in its own quirky, unhinged way.

I really don't want to dive into the plot developments anymore because I loved the third act as it came to me.  Silver Linings Playbook thrives on the honesty of its performances and the truth behind its story of fathers pushing anger to their sons, of fighting personal demons, and of moving forward in life when all seems lost.  This is the dramatic role I have been waiting for from Bradely Cooper, and Jennifer Lawrence has to be the frontrunner at this point for Best Actress doesn't she?  The chemistry these two display absolutely carry the film.  These are performances I couldn't take my eyes away from, and with such satisfying supporting roles from DeNiro, John Ortiz as Pat's friend, and a surprising performance form Chris Tucker as a fellow mental patient, the screen is filled with energy and charm. 

Of course the direction from Russell is quality, but I cannot get out of here without mentioning his use of music.  He has always been on top of his game choosing his soundtrack and things are no different here.  There is a montage sequence that especially sticks out to me near the middle of the film, set to a song from Bob Dylan and a few friends.  I loved it, much like I loved the scenes and the stories and the film around it.