25 November 2012


Most of Silver Linings Playbook seems to take place on a Sunday, standing in the middle of the road, and both of these things serve to make points about the film itself. You could almost have mistaken the different days depicted in the film for one single Sunday, if it weren't for the progression of time from Halloween to Christmas, and it's just the kind of movie that might be best watched on a Sunday afternoon.

The themes and subject matter wouldn't necessarily point to that conclusion, but then the charm of the piece lies in its unsophisticated manner. Pat Solitano Jr is a disgraced high-school teacher, who's spent time in a mental institution after nearly beating his ex-wife's lover to death. He has an undiagnosed bi-polar disorder, and so when he's released from the institution, he moves back in with his mother and father, and sets about trying to save his marriage. With a restraining order between himself and that silver lining, he tries to set things right by befriending Tiffany, a young widow who is something of a kindred spirit.

You notice pretty quickly that David O. Russell's version of Philadelphia is almost eerily devoid of traffic, which, as mentioned, means that Pat and Tiffany are free to loiter in the middle of the road for a lot of the film's more dramatic interactions. This also gives the film itself is doing emotional doughnuts all over the tarmac, which is oddly, albeit unintentionally in keeping with the psychological disorder of its main character. The more it turns around, the more dizzy it becomes, and this disorientation sometimes costs the film a sense of intimacy that turns out to be quite essential.

Moreover, the film seems determined to bring its cluster of characters into every development, taking us further and further from the fulfilment that Pat's character could have had. Bradley Cooper is almost better than he's ever been, in a role that would have been more raw and exposed if Pat wasn't constantly surrounded by friends and family. It's that Sunday thing again- people come and visit on Sundays, which means that many dramatic scenes are crowded out by Pat's parents, his wise-cracking fellow inmate from the mental institution, and his hen-pecked friend, and that's without mentioning sporadic visits from the cop who's been assigned to keep an eye on Pat, as well as his bloody therapist. Although there's some of the enjoyable family dynamic that Russell brought out in The Fighter, and a suprising amount of that film's humour, you want to see a film that gets closer to Pat than this does.

There's also a lingering feeling that you'd rather be watching the movie in which Jennifer Lawrence is the lead, which becomes tougher to shake with every single scene she steals. Tiffany is a markedly different character for the rapidly rising actress, but her performance clearly reaffirms the range of which she is capable, in between essaying iconic female characters like Katniss Everdeen or Mystique. Her towering grief manifests itself in so many different ways as Tiffany tries to wrangle with Pat's condition, as well as her own demons, and I strongly feel that she's the aspect of this film that's most likely to be rewarded throughout awards season. If nothing else, it should serve as a nice reminder of her considerable talents, for those fans who had to endure House At The End Of The Street.

As the film goes on, it becomes a little bit more contrived, which came to the detriment of my earlier investment in the film. The third act is entirely structured around a reason for the ensemble to have a stake in the later scenes, when they should be supporting characters. While Robert De Niro is better in the role of Pat's obsessive-compulsive/superstitious dad than he has been in a while, the larger extent of his involvement still pales in comparison to another majestic matriarchal performance by Jacki Weaver, so why do we need the distraction of those other characters? It's also in the later scenes that the improvisation of dialogue is more obvious, with a couple of stinky lines that once again go to show that so-called naturalism, botched or not, is not a substitute for a great script. These are, however, minor quibbles.

Silver Linings Playbook is a Sunday afternoon film, through and through, with its generally meaningless title, and a funny, slightly old-fashioned approach to storytelling and family dynamics. The latter of these, at least, is a good thing, and my earlier sympathy for the central characters managed to carry me through the less engaging stuff. Jennifer Lawrence is the only truly extraordinary thing about it, but as a film about mental illness that is neither utterly miserable, nor inappropriately feel-good, there's much to like about its even-handed and easy-going approach.

Silver Linings Playbook is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen
Silver Linings Playbook, why not share your comments below? Let's see you all give thanks that we got this from Chris Tucker, rather than Rush Hour 4!
I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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