Friday, October 5, 2012

Silver Linings Playbook ★★★★

A Playbook of Great Filmmaking

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

Unconventional comedies seem to be on the rise as the end of 2012 approaches. We've had The Sessions, a sex comedy about polio, and now Silver Linings Playbook, a comedy (of sorts) about mental illness.

Bradley Cooper stars as Pat Solitano, a bipolar, former substitute teacher, who has just been released from a mental institution after eight months. The reason for his time has to do with an affair his wife had and the beating he gave her lover as a result. During his stay he learned that there are silver linings to everything and that if he remains positive, good things will happen - at least that's what he keeps telling himself.

He comes home to live with his parents, played nicely by Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver. His father is a sports nut who recently lost his pension and bets what little money he has on The Philadelphia Eagles. He superstitiously believes Pat to be a good luck charm, imploring Pat to watch the games with him. Pat, however, is preoccupied with ways that he can try to win his wife back, even though she has a restraining order on him. Later, at a dinner party, he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a widow who  offers to help him in his quest if he agrees to be her dance partner in an upcoming competition.

Lawrence delivers yet another Oscar-worthy performance, nearly stealing the movie from everyone else involved. She plays Tiffany with absolute conviction, bringing out the ferocity and sincerity of her character. She's sexy, smart and damaged, searching - perhaps in all the wrong places - for a connection in the wake of her husband's death. Her scenes with Cooper, which take up a majority of the film, are what truly make this movie great, allowing both actors to showcase their skills just by having a conversation.

It's also nice to see Bradley Cooper doing something we haven't seen before, finally getting a role he deserves. Pat is not an easy part to play, to say the least, as he has to be manic, confused, scared, compassionate, inappropriate and likable all at the same time. He is, after all, bipolar. Cooper doesn't shy away from bringing out the crazy. In one scene that's effectively difficult to watch, Pat goes berserk in the middle of the night searching for his wedding video, accidentally hitting his mom in the process. Your heart breaks for him, yet you can't help but be frightened of him at the same time. He's doing the best that he can in service of his newfound philosophy.

His attitude, and resulting actions, are what make Silver Linings special. Everyone within the story wants to be better, even if it's at times motivated by selfishness: Pat wants his wife back and does kind things to show her that he's changed; Tiffany wants Pat to fall in love with her, begrudgingly helping him so that he'll be her dance partner; and Pat's father wants Pat to watch the Eagles games with him, under the guise of superstition, but really just to spend time with his son. They're trying to do the right thing and good things start happening as a result.

This is a film that doesn't shy away from its own optimism; it relishes in it. When it begins, you have no hope for Pat or the other characters. They all seem beyond help, yet as the movie progresses you see what each character brings out in the other and gradually become more invested in their triumph over their struggles. It's the sincere kind of film that, were he alive today, Frank Capra (director of It's A Wonderful Life) would surely have directed, and one that would have been considered one of his many "Capra-corns".

Instead, the directing duties fall to David O. Russell, who brings a certain style to the story (which he adapted from the novel by Matthew Quick) better than Capra could have in many ways. He shoots mostly in closeup, conveying the discomfort and claustrophobia of Pat's character feeling like he's being smothered. These closeups also bring out the insanity we all feel when we've been around our family for too long, which is perfect for this story. Russell seems to be telling us that no matter how normal any of us think we are, we're all a little bit crazy.

Russell has made a terrific film and, like the best of Capra's work, has delivered a message we shouldn't roll our eyes at and instead wholeheartedly embrace. A tour de force of both acting and directing, Silver Linings Playbook illustrates the power and inspiration that great filmmaking can achieve.

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