Directed by: David O. Russell
Premise: A man with bipolar disorder (Bradley Cooper) is released from a mental hospital and meets a woman with similar problems (Jennifer Lawrence).
What Works: The films of David O. Russell, which include Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees, and The Fighter, share a darkly comic style and feature characters who are intelligent but are bedeviled by their inability to admit their flaws. Silver Linings Playbook shares these same qualities and it has some of the finest moments of Russell’s filmmaking efforts. Silver Linings Playbook is shot with noticeably tight framing and the filmmakers make interesting choices in arranging the characters within the screen space. The film also has interesting cinematography and editing choices, with many early scenes filmed with a shaky, handheld style and then cut together at a fast pace, which parallels the mental condition of Bradley Cooper’s character. As his condition stabilizes the filmmaking also turns steadier, using less obviously handheld camerawork and a less frantic editing style. Also like David O. Russell’s other films, Silver Linings Playbook is distinguished by its wit and humor. The dialogue has a great rhythm to it and the performances by the central cast are very strong. Bradley Cooper plays a former high school teacher putting his life back together after a violent psychological breakdown and this is a very different kind of role for the actor. Cooper generally plays smooth and collected characters and so casting him in this role is fitting. Cooper’s character in Silver Linings Playbook believes himself to be smooth and collected while everyone else can see he is a mess and that tension provides the film with its central conflict. His character is paralleled by a troubled widow played by Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence plays this role very well; this is the kind of character that in lesser hands would be a stereotypical female romantic lead, the woman who needs to rescued and fixed. The screenplay and the actress handle this character very well, giving her backbone where and when appropriate while retaining her human fragility. The banter between Cooper and Lawrence’s characters makes up much of the best material of Silver Linings Playbook and it provides the actors with opportunities for very subtle, fine-tuned acting choices that reveal the personalities of their characters. The supporting cast is also impressive, especially Robert De Niro as the father of Cooper’s character. Although De Niro has not wanted for work over the years he has rarely been as good as he is in Silver Linings Playbook and the actor demonstrates a level of commitment, sensitivity, and range in this film that he hasn’t shown in some time.
What Doesn’t: The performances and filmmaking of Silver Linings Playbook do a lot to elevate the film but its story is a fairly standard boy-meets-girl affair. There aren’t many surprises, especially in the second half, and perceptive viewers will be able to map out the plot from their seats. Another quality of David O. Russell’s filmmaking are characters that are absurd to the point of being obnoxious. This is true of many of the supporting characters of Silver Linings Playbook, especially the father played by Robert De Niro. Everyone in the film is a Philadelphia Eagles fan and De Niro’s character has a belief in rituals before and during the game that go well beyond superstition. These traits suit the film as they parallel the mental illness of the main characters but the story indulges the absurdity too far and the climax suffers because it does not really resolve an established and developed conflict but rather concocts an unnecessary scenario to manufacture last minute drama.
Bottom Line: Silver Linings Playbook has a flimsy story but the performances in it are so human and so funny that they make the picture worth a look.
Episode: #421 (January 6, 2013)