Tuesday 15 January 2013

Movie Review: Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

A romantic drama with comic seasonings, Silver Linings Playbook mixes modern mental health problems with traditional romance ingredients. With likeable lead characters who remain true to their deficiencies, the movie resonates with honest emotion.

After an eight month stay, Pat (Bradley Cooper) is released from a mental hospital and into the care of his parents, mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver) and father Patrick (Robert De Niro). Pat is bipolar, his wild mood swings compounded by an inability to control his anger or filter what comes out of his mouth. He was admitted to the psychiatric facility after surprising his wife Nikki with another man, and beating him senseless. Pat is now intent on getting better, and takes up reading and exercise in the hope that he will get back together with Nikki, although she still has a restraining order on him.

Pat does not connect well with his unemployed father Patrick, who is obsessed with the Philadelphia Eagles, and is running a bookie operation out of his living room. Patrick is also obsessive-compulsive and extremely superstitious when it comes to the fortunes of the Eagles. Doing his best to stay away from the house, Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a police officer's widow. She has a sex addiction problem, is carrying the label of local slut, and is equally lacking in basic social skills. But Tiffany knows Nikki, and promises to deliver a letter to her from Pat if he helps her train for a dance competition.

Silver Linings Playbook is not lacking in contrived moments and unnecessary dramatics, director David O. Russell, working from his own adaptation of the Matthew Quick novel, unable to avoid all the over-ripe fruit. The climax at the dance competition and the final resolution are tired rehashes of worn elements from many trite romantic movies, complete with the compulsory critical misunderstanding threatening the budding romance.

And other than Patrick Sr., the supporting characters are there more for elementary comic relief than any narrative imperative. Weaver as Pat's mother contributes little, Chris Tucker is trotted out at regular intervals as another psychiatric patient slipping unnoticed out of the hospital, and Pat's friends, the interestingly matched Ronnie and Victoria (John Ortiz and Julia Stiles), are embroiled in an engaging tension but are also underused.

But the movie comes to life whenever either Pat or Tiffany are on the screen, which is most of the time. Both characters are suffering from mental and psychological issues, and both are aware of most, but refreshingly not all, of their challenges. Pat knows that his mood swings need to be brought under control and that proximity to his parents does not necessarily help, but he is labouring under the misconception that there is a relationship to be salvaged with Nikki. Meanwhile, Tiffany is fully alive to the destructive effects of her manic need for sexual partners (and its causes), but that does not mean that she can control herself. Pat and Tiffany are not the type of people usually populating romances, and their quirks, struggles, weaknesses and failures elevate Silver Linings Playbook to an attractive adventure about falling in love while carrying heavy psychological luggage.

Bradley Cooper continues to prove his versatility with a performance that is determined, charismatic and sometimes aggressive, Pat struggling as much against himself as against the outside world. After Winter's Bone and The Hunger Games, Jennifer Lawrence nails her first adult role, portraying Tiffany as a young woman who has already seen too much of life, experienced self-inflicted emotional pain, and yet sees enough hope through the fog of resignation to aim for a path out of her desolation. Lawrence may just be the most promising young actress in Hollywood, her screen persona already taking shape as a mixture of confident smarts, dark allure, severe honesty, and determined courage to overcome circumstance and ever-present self-doubt.

Robert De Niro is excellent if a bit excessive as Pat Sr., his mental health also quite tilted but channelling his peculiarities towards annoying habits and arcane notions rather than propensity for violence. There is an excellent chance that with enough medications Pat Jr. will end up like his father, a sufficient enough incentive to break the cycle by finding a woman willing to counteract his aberrations with some of her own. Silver Linings Playbook is ultimately not about finding the right play, but about selecting the right teammate to properly enjoy the game of life.

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