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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 40%
Average: 3.33%
Pretty Bad: 3.33%
Total Crap: 0%

3 reviews, 12 user ratings

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Silver Linings Playbook
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Flirting With Disaster"
5 stars

A few weeks ago, while killing time between screenings, I went off on a brief tirade once again declaring my utter loathing for "Ruby Sparks," an abysmally smug romantic comedy-drama of such awfulness that it almost made the equally rancid "Like Crazy" seem nearly palatable by comparison. After ranting for a while, a colleague asked me if I could name a few recent films of this type that I actually did like and to that, I was a bit stumped. I eventually recalled a few--things like "Crazy Stupid Love," "Friends with Benefits" and "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" along with slightly older titles like "Love Actually" and the great "Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset"--but for the most part, the genre has been running on fumes for the last few years as a type of filmmaking that Hollywood used to nail beautifully and consistently back in the day has largely devolved into vehicles highlighting the waning appeal of the likes of Katherine Heigl and Kate Hudson. One of the great things about "Silver Linings Playbook" is that it is a film that manages to do the things that the genre used to do so well in the past without ever succumbing to the flaws that have brought it down in recent years. The result is a cinematic high-wire act that audaciously blends edgy comedy together with genuinely touching drama into one of the most purely and surprisingly entertaining movies of the year.

Our hero is Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) and when we first see him, he is being released from the mental hospital where he has spent the last eight months--part of a plea bargain after brutally beating the man who was having an affair with his wife--into the custody of his parents (Robert De Niro and Jackie Weaver)with grand plans of regaining his wife, his teaching job, his home and everything else he lost as the result of his violent bipolar-related outburst. His mood may be upbeat but things quickly begin to devolve for him. He refuses to take his medication, his jogging trips tend to wander into areas forbidden to him as the result of various restraining orders and the sound of "My Cheri Amour"--his wedding song and the tune playing when he discovered his wife's infidelity--is still enough to send him into a rage when his shrink () plays it in the waiting room before their first session as a test. Nevertheless, despite these setbacks, he continues to optimistically believe that everything is going to work out fine, despite the worries of his parents that he is slipping back into old habits. His parents, as we quickly discover, are just as crazily obsessive as he is but since they have been able to channel their behavior into something more socially acceptable--a fanatical devotion to the Philadelphia Eagles that extends to Dad becoming a bookie after losing his job--no one thinks of them as being anything but normal even when they are clearly anything but.

The most unexpected hiccup in Pat's plan to regain his wife comes when he accepts a dinner invitation from married friends Ronny and Veronica (John Ortiz and Julia Stiles) and discovers that there is going to be another guest at the table, Veronica's younger sister Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). Tiffany has herself suffered a recent tragedy--the death of her husband in an accident--and transferred her grief into a bout of promiscuity that made her a local scandal until giving that up in order to throw herself into studying dancing as a form of therapy. The two do not hit it off well at first but before long, a friendship does grow between them, though not even Tiffany's obvious charms can dissuade Pat from his desire to win back his wife. Eventually, Tiffany offers to sneak a letter from Pat to his wife stating his desire for them to get back together but in exchange, she has a favor of her own that she wants him to perform in return. What it is will not be mentioned here--and hopefully will not be ruined in the ads for the time being--but suffice it to say, this favor kicks of a chain of events that goes on to tie all of the myriad plot developments in highly unanticipated ways.

On paper, the premise of "Silver Linings Playbook" sounds like the kind of aggressively uplifting tale of misfits falling in love in a world that just doesn't understand them that that might be described as "feel-good" by critics hoping to get quoted in the ads and as "a giant load of crap" by practically everyone else with even a modicum of sense and taste. In the hands of most filmmakers, this is what might have been the inevitable result but the task of bringing Matthew Quick's novel to the screen happily fell to writer-director David O. Russell and I can hardly think of another person better suited for the job. Russell has racked up one of the more eclectic filmographies of recent times--ranging from dark satires like "Spanking the Monkey" and "Three Kings" to earnest melodramas like "The Fighter" to defiant oddities like "Flirting with Disaster" and "I Heart Huckabees"--but if one were two name two recurring elements in his work that he was interested in exploring, they would be a subversion of traditional genre expectations and a cold, unblinking and yet not entirely unsympathetic observation of exceptionally twisted family ties that can simultaneously bind and choke. Those two elements are right at the forefront of "Silver Linings Playbook" and Russell handles them with immense skill and ingenuity. At first glance, for example, the conflicts between Pat and his family may seem a little too close to what he was dealing with in "The Fighter" but as things progress, the relationships become darker, funnier and altogether truer than those found in that earlier film--while the characters there all seemed at times to be like gifted soloists waiting for their moment in the spotlight, the relationships here feel like examples of real interpersonal dynamics in all their messy glory.

And it is also due to Russell's skills as a filmmaker that the story never becomes bogged down into the kind of potentially deadly sitcom contrivances that always seem to be hovering nearby. Face it--there is nothing on display here that hasn't been seen before in any number of other romantic comedies, right down to the lead character struggling with mental illness. Oftentimes, however, such things are presented in the broadest and shallowest terms imaginable so as not to make things too disturbing for most moviegoers but Russell has enough faith in both the material and the moviegoing public to give things a more realistic spin. Instead of treating the mental health aspect as a gimmick that can be trotted out or ignored depending on the scene-to-scene requirements of the story, the film deploys it far more believably by illustrating how Pat can shift from manic highs to disastrous lows with terrifying ease. Even the more cliched elements of the story work here because Russell presents them so that they feel as though they are actually inspired by the behavior of the characters and not by the machinations of the screenplay. This is most evident during the climax, normally the most predictable aspect of a film like this--even before buying their tickets, most viewers can pretty much surmise that the two leads are going to wind up in each others arms just before the end credits. Here, the complications are just as pronounced as in other such movies but because of how they are handled, they not only have a certain plausibility because of the way that they are driven by the behavior of the characters but there is even a certain degree of suspense to be derived from the fact that we are not 100% certain what will happen.

"Silver Linings Playbook" is also blessed with no fewer than four--count em, four--of the very best performances to be found in any film from this year. As frequent readers have no doubt noted, I have generally regarded Bradley Cooper as a no-talent twerp whose mere presence in a movie means only that someone didn't want to pay for a real leading man. This time around, however, I am happy and more than a little surprised to note that he is simply great here as Pat--funny, scary and sympathetic without a trace of the smugness that has been the hallmark of many of his previous performances. On the other hand, Jennifer Lawrence delivering a great performance is no longer a surprise--she almost managed to sell gibberish like "House at the End of the Street" solely on the basis of her sheer professionalism and undeniable star power--but what she does her is amazing and once and for all solidifies her position as both one of the best actresses around and a genuine star of the highest order. (In other words, the Best Actress Oscar race pretty much starts and ends with her at this point.) Robert De Niro has largely been squandering his talents over the last decade or so but as his work here as Pat's father demonstrates, he still has the chops to turn in a great performance when duly inspired. As the mother, Australian actress Jackie Weaver--who earned a lot of attention and an unexpected Oscar nomination for her work in the crime drama "Animal Kingdom" a couple of years ago--disappears so completely into the role that I did not realize that it was her that I was watching until the end credits. The supporting cast is also filled with nice performances as well--even the usually obnoxious Chris Tucker knocks it out of the park with a surprisingly endearing turn as a hospital friend of Pat's who gets swept up into the story as well.

"Silver Linings Playbook" is an absolute delight from start to finish--easily Russell's best and most consistent work since "Three Kings"--and that may well blindside viewers with its compelling combination of humor, pathos and off-kilter romance. The only flaw with it that I can see--and this is one that is less on the film than on those watching it--is that since it is basically a character piece, some may find fault with its low-key nature and feel that such a film cannot possibly be deemed important, especially in comparison to films like "Lincoln" that wear their weightiness like a badge of honor. It may be true that the film is not as concerned with making a profound statement on the human condition as it is in simply telling a story but since it does that so well, it seems almost churlish to complain that it is not something that it never wanted to be in the first place. Besides, if I can be brought around to enjoy a film that includes both Bradley Cooper and a plot revolving partially around the worship of the Philadelphia Eagles, that counts as some kind of cinematic miracle, doesn't it?

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originally posted: 11/16/12 12:49:37
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Austin Film Festival For more in the 2012 Austin Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 48th Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 48th Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 San Diego Film Festival For more in the 2012 San Diego Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 35th Starz Denver Film Festival For more in the 35th Starz Denver Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/24/21 morris campbell solid flick about mental illness 4 stars
12/16/20 Brian Cute but tough. 4 stars
3/26/15 Robert Tschinkel Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper are a match made in heaven in this film 5 stars
6/18/13 Annie G I'm not fond of "look how quircky these mental illness folks are" films! 3 stars
5/05/13 Edler A great drama that is not depressing but not sappy. Cooper's career excelsior! 5 stars
5/04/13 mr.mike Good overall but I didn't care for the ending. 4 stars
2/26/13 Geraldine Solid romantic dramedy. 4 stars
1/27/13 oprah winnifred worse film yet from o russell 2 stars
1/23/13 Koitus Guys - go see it with your GF. You'll LOVE the J. Lawrence dancing outfits & camera work! 4 stars
1/19/13 Chris. So surprised--I was ready for a typical crapfest. I don't buy many movies but I'll buy this 5 stars
12/17/12 Monday Morning Lots of lame rom-coms out there, but this one is excellent! I laughed, cried, & loved it. 5 stars
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  16-Nov-2012 (R)
  DVD: 30-Apr-2013


  DVD: 30-Apr-2013

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