Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Movie Review: Silver Linings Playbook

Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence
Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Written and directed by: David O. Russell
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro and Jacki Weaver

Like the screwball films of the 1930s -- after which Silver Linings Playbook is styled -- the jam-packed script of director David O. Russell's latest oddity is rife with loose narrative threads that all ultimately tie together neatly in the end.

A festival darling, winning the People's Choice Award at this years Toronto International Film Festival, Silver Linings Playbook has received overwhelming support in critics circles. Applauded for its unique quirkiness, the film is based on a novel by Matthew Quick and manages to balance its darker themes with moments of levity.

When Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) is released from a mental health facility he returns to his childhood home to live with his parents (Robert DeNiro and Jacki Weaver). Diagnosed as bipolar, Pat was hospitalized after discovering his wife in the shower with a work colleague and nearly beating the man to death. After countless therapy sessions, Pat has learned to rein in his mood swings and bouts of violent rages -- for the most part. Pat wants to be reunited with his now-ex-wife and vows that nothing will stand in his way, including a pesky restraining order. He believes a reconciliation with his wife is his "shot at a silver lining", as he often says. When his old friends (John Ortiz and Julia Stiles) invite him over for dinner one night to celebrate his homecoming Pat is introduced to Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a young widow with personal issues of her own. As the two bond over medications and moments of depression, the two recognize a spark and embark on a rocky friendship that involves Pat trying to win back his ex-wife and a high-stakes ballroom dance competition.

In a rare dramatic lead role, Cooper has established himself as a fine actor and more than just another pretty Hollywood face. His mature performance as Pat carries a large portion of the emotional heft in the film. He even works through the melodramatic bits to create full-fledged character living on the brink; a man trying to thread his life together.

However, as solid as Cooper is in the lead role, the film greatly benefits from the standout performance of Lawrence as the grieving widow. Playing a character much older than her actual 22 years, Lawrence instills Tiffany with complex emotions that are just brimming beneath the surface. She's liable to just go off at any moment, but Lawrence brings a touching fragility to her sharp-tongued incarnation of Tiffany. She's just as lost, in not more so, than Pat. If there is one thing you'll remember after watching Silver Linings Playbook, it's her bold performance.

In a supporting role, Robert DeNiro is back in top form, portraying Pat's football-loving father who suffers from obsessive compulsive disorders but who loves his family, no matter how dysfunctional. And Jacki Weaver gives a lovely performance as the family matriarch who just wants her loved ones to be alright.

Where the film suffers at times is in its meandering plot. There are moments when the narrative struggles to stay afloat on a very thin premise. But, thanks to a cathartic, albeit cliched, ballroom dance finale, Russell's film manages to straddle multiple genres while telling an intriguing, emotional story. Despite some issues with the script, Silver Linings Playbook is an actors film, one that allows them room to breath and create unique characters that pull you into the story.