Thursday, March 14, 2013

Silver Linings Playbook

To be perfectly honest with you, I wasn't thrilled with the 2012 Best Picture Oscar nominees.  I really liked Django Unchained and Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Argo was also very good, but the rest underwhelmed me.  I've never been a huge fan of David O. Russell.  I've always found Bradley Cooper a little annoying.  I hate Chris Tucker.  Suffice to say, I wasn't looking forward to Silver Linings Playbook very much.  Luckily, I really enjoy Jennifer Lawrence, and this is the role she won her Best Actress award for.  Will that be enough to make this worthwhile for my admittedly subjective tastes?

Do you like stories about people with psychiatric disorders?  Are you tired of watching Mad Love over and over again to get your bipolar disorder film fix?  Then I have a movie for you!  Silver Linings Playbook follows Pat () as he recovers from a mental breakdown that led to him losing his job and wife.  Pat's bipolar disorder was treated in a psychiatric institution until his mother, Dolores (), took legal custody of him.  Now, Pat is living at home with his parents until he can convince his estranged wife that he has changed enough for her to take him back.
"That sounds like a pretty terrible plan"
To do this, Pat has been working out and has decided to read all the books his wife is teaching at her high school.  Unfortunately, she has a restraining order in place, so it's a little difficult for him to show off his insane plan growth.  That's where Tiffany () comes in.  She is also a little crazy, but in a I've-just-been-widowed-so-I'm-having-sex way.  The pair bond over medications and being the disappointments of their respective families and eventually come to an agreement.  If Pat is really going to convince his wife that he has changed, he needs to do something that requires dedication and is far outside his comfort zone.
Considering that wearing garbage is something he's okay with, that could take some work
Tiffany needs a partner for an upcoming dance recital and promises to sneak Pat's wife some letters if he works with her.  Now, spending a lot of time dancing with an attractive woman who is fifteen years your junior may not sound like the best way to convince your wife to forgive you, but keep in mind that everyone in this story is a little crazy.
The age difference doesn't bother anyone else?  Nobody?

The acting in Silver Linings Playbook is universally good.  I'm not a fan of , but he played his bipolar character convincingly and I didn't feel pandered or preached to.  I didn't like his character --- everything from his motives, to the way he reacted to his parents, to his emotional triggers annoyed me --- but none of that his the fault of the actor.  This is easily the best work I have seen from Cooper to date.
Thankfully, was amazing.  I thought she showed a very realistic dose of "everyday crazy" and came across as a believable, natural character.  She delivered most of the best lines in the film and had the most impressive character arc.  Lawrence is the difference between this being a mediocre character piece and being a Best Picture contender.  
You don't think Bradley Cooper can carry a prestige picture, do you?
One of the biggest surprises in this film was 's best work in at least a decade (is it bad that The Score is the last thing I remember him being decent in?).  I'm not entirely sure what was behind his character (undiagnosed OCD is my best guess), but DeNiro was vulnerable and energetic.  was pretty good in an underdeveloped role; I like Weaver, but I think her Best Supporting Actress nod has more to do with it being a thin category than thanks to her work.  If she had five more minutes of solid screen time, I am sure she could have changed my mind.  The biggest surprise for me was the fact that was actually pretty good and not at all annoying. 
"I didn't think it was possible either"
The rest of the supporting cast was decent, but nothing particularly impressive.  Veteran Bollywood actor made an appearance as a pretty well-adjusted therapist, was okay as a supposedly "normal" guy that was acting a little crazy, and was convincing as a horrific bitch.

David O. Russell directed the film and adapted the screenplay for Silver Linings Playbook.  He obviously did a good job with the actors, even if you ignore all the accolades the cast received.  Just getting DeNiro to wake up and act in a film these days shows impressive pull with a cast, and turning Bradley Cooper into a viable lead character was equally impressive.
*** cue sheepish grin ***
As far as the rest of the movie, I though Russell did a solid job.  The script was a little too heavy-handed for my liking --- did everyone have to display a degree of "crazy"? --- but the script was reasonably smart.  I felt that the turning point was telegraphed, and I would have preferred for it to be less obvious when Pat worked everything out in his head, but he handled the emotions in the story well enough for that to balance out.

It would have been nice if the plot was surprising at all.  This isn't necessarily as formulaic as your typical rom-com, but it's not far off.  For a script that could occasionally be very witty, the plot was pretty conventional.
A romantic movie with a diner scene.  How novel.
That familiarity is Silver Linings Playbook's biggest obstacle.  This movie wants to stand tall as a realistic and funny movie about people functioning with psychological disorders, but it is so eerily reminiscent of other movies about so many other things (Garden State, My Best Friend's Wedding, Timecop, etc.) that it feels like a bit of a rehash.  That doesn't make it bad, and Jennifer Lawrence alone makes this worth watching, but a more unique plot and a more lovable main character would have gone a long way toward making Silver Linings Playbook more special.

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