Thursday, December 27, 2012

Man on Film: Silver Linings Playbook

In spite of its grating name--a trait it shares with some of David O. Russell's other films, namely I Heart Huckabee's and Spanking the Monkey--Silver Linings Playbook stands out as one of the year's best films. This should come as no surprise, of course, as Three Kings, the aforementioned I Heart Huckabee's, and The Fighter were all amongst the best films released in the years they came out as well, but the fact remains that no matter the subject, David O. Russell's touch is a deft and sure one.

If you want an idea as to how good this film is, let us just start with the statement that David O. Russell restores hope in the form of the romantic comedy. After all, that's what Silver Linings Playbook is: a romantic comedy. Somehow, though, it doesn't fall into the trap that nearly every other film of the genre does, a trait that speaks to its director, who seems to be able to work within a genre while being entirely his own man each time out. Just as he did with The Fighter and Three Kings, Russell sets up shop in a genre only to make that genre his own.

Where Silver Linings Playbook sets itself apart is in having its romantic leads need each other to make them right. Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) had such emotional issues that he was institutionalized on orders of the court after beating the man with whom his wife was having an affair. Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence) took to feeding her widow's grief with an endless string of self-destructive sex. The two are wrecks, but in each other's company, even though it is on a platonic basis, they work and begin to piece their  shattered lives back together. Each character is broken but outspoken, giving Cooper and Lawrence roles full of opportunity. That Lawrence kills it is hardly a shock. She's clearly one of the most (if not the most) promising young actresses working. Hell, she's probably looking at her second Academy Award nomination at the age of 22. It's Cooper whose performance is revelatory. Whether of his own choosing or not, Cooper's talents have been wasted for nearly a decade (Midnight Meat Train notwithstanding, obviously). Here, the untapped potential fucking geysers without ceasing. Cooper is great, putting his name in the mix for a Best Actor nomination while making us remember why we--at least those of us who watched Alias when it was still good--had hope for him in the first place.

While Cooper and Lawrence are at the film's center, the supporting cast augments the leads well. Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker, and Shea Whigham are all great in small roles, and Robert DeNiro actually gets to play a role he hasn't played before, hearkening back to a time in which he was a top-notch actor. It's like the audience gets a taste of 1976. It is so nice to see DeNiro playing a role that isn't beneath him for once. We have to go back to Ronin or The Score to find a film in which DeNiro's talents aren't squandered. If you give him The Score, that's still over a decade in which he has floundered in substandard roles. In Silver Linings Playbook, he gets a chance to flash brilliance once again. It's fucking glorious.

Really, though, it's David O. Russell's vision, his ability to hand-craft screenplays with cherry roles for his actors, that make Silver Linings Playbook the fantastic film that it is. It is imbued with a working-class charm and a genuinely loving respect for the downtrodden. As always, Russell actually treats his subjects (at least most of them) with respect, rather than sneering down at them from a lofty perch. And when all is said and done, you'll be hard-pressed to think of a movie that's made you feel better this year.

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