Silver Linings Playbook
dir. David O. Russell
starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro
rated: R ; runtime: 122 minutes
Before I saw Silver Linings Playbook, I overheard someone compare David O. Russell to Frank Capra–and mean it as a compliment. I thought about it for a while, not really seeing the connection between Flirting With Disaster and It Happened One Night, nor The Fighter and It’s A Wonderful Life. When I finally got to feast my eyes on my hometown scenery and take in the movie as a whole, it clicked. In an age where cynicism, skepticism, amorality or downright nostalgia make up the bulk of the critical successes in film, David O. Russell dares to be our generation’s Frank Capra. He loudly, and proudly stands up and fights for happiness.
Silver Linings Playbook may be the film that stands out most with this through line of his. At its very core, it fights it pleads, it crawls for that happy ending. And it’s not easy to achieve. Bradley Cooper’s character, Pat, certainly knows this. He’s developed an entire playbook aimed at that one goal, however unattainable it may seem. Though he’s just been released from a mental hospital, living with his parents, and trying to win back the love of his wife who happens to have a restraining order against him, Pat fights, hard and everyday for his happiness.
This hilarious, sometimes sad, resilience is at the heart of this little movie, and at the heart of Bradley Cooper’s performance. He carries the film on his shoulders with apt capability for an actor that has been pigeon holed in most of his roles and he shines the entire way through. Watching his mania, his optimism, his ongoing war with himself, and ultimately his fragility underneath his zeal is inspiring. Bradley Cooper, Oscar nominee, has a weird ring to it, right? But we should all get used to the sound, and rightly so.
This common thread doesn’t stop with Pat, but branches off into the hearts of every other character we meet. Jennifer Lawrence plays Tiffany with the same desperate, if not more volatile, need for happiness. When an unplanned detail sends her into a tailspin of panic in the third act, she bites out to her sister, “You’re killing me,” through clenched teeth and legitimate pain. Robert De Niro, as Pat’s obsessive-compulsive, Eagles and gambling fixated father, regularly asks his son to watch the game with him, and is always rejected. His often soft, but anxious pleading is heart wrenching in its earnestness, and shares the same desperate longing the others’ have for human connection.
But all of this despair, and all of this fighting for something better, does not bring the movie down. This is where David O. Russell shines. The consensus is that Silver Linings is a comedy–though one scene provoked some nasty tears from my eyes–and it mostly is. But it isn’t farce or caricature. It isn’t a drama either. It exists somewhere in between, somewhere more real. It exists in the realm that so many of us recognize (especially if you deal with mental illness in your own family). It’s raw and messy and uncomfortable, sad, and downright hilarious, sometimes all within the matter of minutes. When O. Russell can take a manic outburst turned family brawl, or an embarrassing public tantrum on the sidewalk through the stages of high drama to wistful comedy, it works. Why? Because sometimes those moments are funny. Sometimes it’s not all lows. Sometimes you have to power through the bullshit and the problems and just roll with the punches on your way to something better.
That kind of blind, bulldozing determination of Silver Linings Playbook isn’t a message we often see. But David O. Russell dares to show it to us, and does so beautifully, endearingly and hilariously once again. Grade: A