Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook (2012) Starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker, Anupam Kher. Directed by David O. Russell. Produced by Bruce Cohen, Donna Giguliotti. Screenplay by David O. Russell. Based on The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick. Run Time: 122 minutes. U.S. Color. Romantic Comedy

While Woody Allen made a career out of the quirky romantic comedy, Silver Linings Playbook shows that the subgenre is not solely his domain. David O. Russell is not a newcomer to quirk either. His first feature, 1994’s Spanking the Monkey, dealt with the incestuous relationship between mother and son; it don’t get much quirkier than that. But in this film he makes it much more accessible. I have never read the book that the film is taken from, but I do appreciate his writing and direction.

Silver Linings Playbook tells the story of Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), who has anger management issues and bipolar disorder. Pat has just gotten out of a mental health facility and returned home to his parent’s house. Pat is also obsessed with his wife Nikki (Brea Bee), who has a restraining order out on him.

Through mutual friends, he gets introduced to Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence), the widow of a police officer who had previously drowned her sorrows by sleeping with everyone. She has recently lost her job, but she still has dreams. While their relationship gets off to a bumpy start, Pat and Tiffany eventually fall in love and that’s the story the film tells. And since it is still out in the theaters, I won’t get into any more than that.

While the main characters are unusual and the story is well told, the acting is perhaps the best part of the movie, which is really a character study about the Solitano family. While Pat and Tiffany have both been to therapy, they are far from the only “crazy” people in the film. Everyone has something they hide, including Pat’s best friend, Ronnie (John Ortiz), who feels suffocated by the demands of his job and family life, Pat’s father, Patrizio (Robert DeNiro), who has turned to bookmaking after losing his job and Pat’s therapist, Dr. Patel (Anupam Kher), who is the last person you’d expect to be at a tailgate party with war paint on his face.

The acting is strong all around. Bradley Cooper, whom I’ve found to be prettier than talented, really shows he can act. Pat is a hard character to get audiences to like. He has no filter when he speaks (and he says some very inappropriate things), he struggles to control his anger, is self-centered and obsessed with the wrong person. But before the film is over, he turns out to be a very likable guy who you root for to pull his life together.

Bradley Cooper as Pat Solitano
Jennifer Lawrence, on the other hand, has already proven herself to be an accomplished actress. She seems to have a real flair for comedy. Again, Tiffany starts out as a troubled figure, but she proves to be strong. Lawrence, who is only 22, seems to stand her own not only with Cooper, but with Robert DeNiro, one of the most accomplished actors over the last several decades. She is someone whom I will look forward to watching for the years to come as she will no doubt add to an already rich body of work.

Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany Maxwell
When I first heard about the actors playing the leading roles, I had to admit I wondered about the age difference. Cooper, 38, is 16 years older than his co-star. Sometimes big age differences between leads (not to mention onscreen love interests) can come off as odd. (Woody Allen finally came to the same conclusion for his own characters). But Cooper plays it younger and Lawrence, who will probably look much the same in fifteen years, plays it a little older and there are no problems. If this had been the old studio system days, I would think they would be paired together again.

While DeNiro seems to play any and all parts he’s offered, he still has presence and once again proves he is a great character actor. In Silver Linings Playbook, he avoids being the caricature he’s so often cast as in other comedies. Patrizio has his own issues with gambling, superstitions and OCD, but they just add depth to the character. DeNiro is more than capable of handling human foibles.

Robert DeNiro as Patriizio 

I wouldn’t have guessed it, but Jacki Weaver, who plays Patrizio’s wife, Dolores, is Australian. She comes across as a native Philadelphian to me. Weaver is probably best known in the US for her role as Janine “Smurf” Cody in Animal Kingdom (2010) for which she received every acting nomination you can think of. Her Dolores is somewhat kept in back, but you know that she has everyone else’s best interest at heart and is really the glue that holds the family together with her “crabbies” and “homemades” during the Eagles telecasts.

Jacki Weaver as Dolores

All four of the principal actors, as well as the director, writer, editors and the film itself have been singled out for Academy Awards. While the Academy’s is merely one more award, it does show the appreciation for the film by the broader industry and recognizes the talents of those involved in the film.

The other actors also give strong performances and I don’t mean to overlook their contributions to the movies. But there is one actor I wanted to point out.

Chris Tucker is perhaps the biggest surprise for me. Silver Linings is only his eleventh film in a career that goes back 18 years. Best known for co-starring with Jackie Chan in Rush Hour (1998), Rush Hour 2 (2001) and Rush Hour 3 (2007), he hasn’t been on the big screen in five years. My expectations for his turn as Danny, Pat’s friend from the asylum, were low. Danny is as close to a superfluous character as there is in Silver Linings. He pops up two or three times, only to be sent back to the hospital more than once. He brings a different slant to things in the Solitano household and helps Pat realize the feelings he has developed for Tiffany. While the movie would have still worked without the character of Danny, he manages to enrich the film. For the first time I can say I look forward to what Chris Tucker might do next. I hope it is something more like this and not Rush Hour 4

Chris Tucker in 'Silver Linings Playbook'
Chris Tucker as Danny

Silver Linings Playbook is a small picture about a not-so-typical family (or at least we’d all like to think so) trying to keep it together in modern day Philadelphia. There are no earth-shattering or history-changing events depicted here, but there is something genuine about the film. I would gladly recommend this to an age appropriate viewer and would look forward to watching this one again. Silver Linings Playbook is easily one of the best films from 2012.

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