Director: David O. Russell
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Julia Stiles, Robert De Niro, Chris Tucker, Jacki Weaver, Anupam Kher, John Ortiz, Shea Whigham, Dash Mihok
RunTime: 2 hrs
Rating: NC-16 (Coarse Language And Some Nudity)
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Official Website: http://silverliningsplaybookmovie.com/
Opening Day: 10 January 2013
Synopsis: Life doesn't always go according to plan... Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) has lost everything -- his house, his job, and his wife. He now finds himself living back with his mother (Jacki Weaver) and father (Robert DeNiro) after spending eight months in a state institution on a plea bargain. Pat is determined to rebuild his life, remain positive and reunite with his wife, despite the challenging circumstances of their separation. All Pat's parents want is for him to get back on his feet - and to share their family's obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles football team. When Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a mysterious girl with problems of her own, things get complicated. Tiffany offers to help Pat reconnect with his wife, but only if he'll do something very important for her in return. As their deal plays out, an unexpected bond begins to form between them, and silver linings appear in both of their lives.
“We are all a little weird and life’s a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love.” – Dr Seuss
No one in ‘The Silver Linings Playbook’ is completely right in the head – the lead character Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) suffers from bipolar disorder; his father Pat Sr (Robert De Niro) might have borderline obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD); his closest friend is a buddy named Danny (Chris Tucker) he made during a brief eight-month stint in a mental institution; and last but not least, the woman who is supposed to help him get back on his feet is a young widow called Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), whose way of dealing with her grief was to sleep with every single person at her workplace.
Despite their idiosyncrasies, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more endearing bunch of people you’d wish you actually were in the company of – and the fact that this adult-centred comedy of mental illness, family drama, rugged romance and Philadelphia Eagles fandom is just about one of the most bracingly funny and heartwarmingly poignant movies you’ll see this year is truly writer-director David O’ Russell’s credit. Adapting from Matthew Quick’s novel of the same title, Russell injects intensity and passion into an engaging source material to make it dramatic, emotional and even heartbreaking.
Whilst other filmmakers might have tried to win your sympathy for the lot of dysfunctional characters, Russell is much more adroit in his technique; rather, he simply lets every single character be himself or herself – flaws, inadequacies, quirks and all – and then leaves it to you to embrace them one by one in exactly the irregular but utterly unique mould in which they come in. What he does consciously engineer though are fascinating moments of interaction between and among these characters, brought vividly to life with acerbic wit and inspired lunacy.
So despite knowing that it would likely be grating, Russell doesn’t dumb down Pat’s delusional positive beliefs of getting back with his estranged wife Nikki (Brea Bee) who has taken out a restraining order against him. Neither does he tone down Tiffany’s abrasiveness, her sharp-tongued honesty both refreshing and yet intimidating to watch – though admittedly, it does add to her character’s unlikely appeal. Nor does he avoid the uncomfortable scenes – a shouting match that turns physical between Pat and his parents in particular is discomforting to say the least, especially since it originates from something as juvenile as Pat’s singular obsession of trying to locate his wedding video at 3 am in the morning.
But amidst the crazy, there are laugh-out-loud moments – for instance, Pat’s late-night or rather early-morning rant about how absurd and ridiculous Ernest Hemingway’s ‘A Call to Arms’ ends; or his seemingly happily-married friend, Ronnie’s (John Ortiz), confessions of his frustrations about married life as if Pat were some marriage counsellor. And then there are the positively endearing moments as well, mostly revolving around the oddball connection that Pat and Tiffany form with each other, which begins as Tiffany agrees to help pass on a letter to Nikki if he were to be her partner at a dance contest.
Right from the beginning, you know that the relationship that will inevitably develop between Pat and Tiffany is likely to defy convention – their first conversation with each other consists of joking and comparing each other’s medication at the dinner table. Then in order to convince Pat to take up her bargain, she begins to stake him out on his daily jogs, appearing out of nowhere in running clothes and proving impossible to shake off despite his best efforts until he agrees to become her friend. Their volatile push-and-pull soon deepens beautifully as they begin rehearsing in the dance studio within the home she has built in her parent’s garage, and without consciously realising it, both become each other’s compass of sanity and – occasionally – serenity.
So winning is their chemistry that even fans of the book are unlikely to begrudge Russell for turning the book’s ballroom dance sequence that happens two-thirds into the narrative into the film’s crowdpleasing climax. Of course, the reason that their unlikely romance works is Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence’s terrific performances, both of which reveal a hidden depth to their acting that has hereto forth been unseen in their repertoire. Among the two, the more surprising revelation here is Cooper. Unlike his role in ‘The Hangover’ films where he often is called upon to simply look handsome and dapper, his character here demands that he walk a delicate balance between eccentricity and ferocity, and Cooper steps to the challenge with an intense and unwavering performance that is funny, touching and compelling.
In contrast, Lawrence, who is better known for her dramatic acting in ‘Winter’s Bone’ and even ‘The Hunger Games’, impresses with her gift for comedy. Her delivery of her character’s zingers is spot-on and just one aspect of a remarkably multifaceted performance that sees her go from rude to dirty to funny to foul-mouthed to sexy and to vulnerable. Though she plays a character well beyond her age, hers is a thoroughly mature delivery that perfectly captures Tiffany’s pain, confidence and stubborn determination. Cooper and Lawrence are simply electrifying together, and their back-and-forth banter unfolds with a snappy, energetic rhythm that makes for one of the best pairings we have ever seen.
The ensemble cast are just as outstanding. Much has been said about how Robert DeNiro could have a real shot at an Oscar after 21 years and the buzz is absolutely justified. The warmest and most astute we have seen him of late, DeNiro calibrates his supporting act of kooky and endearing expertly so as to let his younger leading stars take the spotlight. As his wife, Jacki Weaver is a beautiful complement, effusing motherly warmth and tenderness when Pat Sr is at a loss how to connect to his son. And after disappearing from the big screen for some time, Tucker pops up with a nicely tuned comic turn that has none of the irritating motor-mouthed wisecracking shtick he is known for.
Russell’s confident direction of his wonderfully assembled cast also deserves praise, nowhere more evident than in the chaotic football-watching scenes in Pat Sr's living room that are full of overlapping dialogue and high emotions. There is method to Russell’s onscreen madness, portraying varying forms of eccentricity with great finesse. Those familiar with Russell’s works will recognise his trademarks in the off-kilter family dynamics amidst working-class characters, and here those characteristics are assembled in a raw, edgy and compulsively watchable comedy that celebrates the dysfunctions within each one of us and in our families.
And even though Russell’s name is not typically associated with mainstream fare, this is as accessible as any Hollywood romantic comedy. The difference? The dialogue is smart and snappy, the emotions are real and poignant, and the acting and chemistry just crackling. This is not just a playbook with silver linings; it is one with gold trimmings, one that deserves ti be read and savoured over and over again.
(Punchy, poignant, and ultimately uplifting, David O’ Russell’s romantic dramedy packs witty dialogue, fascinating characters and brilliant acting to leave you smiling and emotionally dazzled)
Review by Gabriel Chong