Review: Silver Linings Playbook

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As one example of why Silver Linings Playbook is an instant classic, I actually welcomed every appearance of Chris Tucker. David O. Russell, who directs and writes (based on a novel by Matthew Quick), tackles a topic that in lesser hands could be hopelessly maudlin, and turns it into one of the best romantic comedies of the last twenty years. The film is both raucously funny and deeply touching.

Bradley Cooper stars as a young man who is bipolar. He has been sprung from a mental institution after spending eight months there after beating the tar out of his wife’s lover. He moves in with his parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver), determined to win his wife back and find the silver lining.

Along the way he meets the sister of his best friend’s wife (Jennifer Lawrence). She is also a young widow, a litany of mental quirks, though not institutionalized. The two bond over comparing antidepressants. But Lawrence, who has a history of promiscuity, throws herself at Cooper, who only has eyes for his wife (who, unfortunately, has a restraining order against him).

In Silver Linings Playbook, no one is completely normal, as no one is in real life. De Niro’s character is an obsessive Philadelphia Eagles’ fan, who was banned from the stadium for fighting (when he drops Cooper off for a game he tells him, “Don’t drink too much! Don’t hit anybody and you’ll be fine”) and believes in “juju,” such as having the remote controls just so and clutching an Eagles emblazoned handkerchief like Linus with his blanket. Weaver is a classic enabler, and Cooper’s friend Ron (Jon Ortiz) is under the thumb of his status-seeking wife (Julia Stiles, in a brief but lacerating performance). Cooper may need lithium, and Lawrence is a bundle of psychoses, but we can watch and realize we may be only one crisis away from full-blown mania.

The film is joyously humorous, even about its disturbing subject matter. Cooper wakes his parents up in the middle of the night to complain about the ending of A Farewell to Arms, which he has hurled out the window. In Lawrence’s big scene, she explains that she is actually good juju for the Eagles, and De Niro, impressed, concedes that she is right. And then Cooper and Lawrence’s dance is the best of its kind since John Travolta and Uma Thurman took to the floor in Pulp Fiction (a similar dance climax in Little Miss Sunshine did not work nearly as well).

All the actors are terrific, but Oscar nominations should be forthcoming for Cooper, Lawrence, and De Niro. Cooper manages to play a man who you wouldn’t want to be around, but you can’t help but root for. Lawrence also has a tightrope to walk, playing the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (emphasis on Manic), but in a way, Cooper is her Manic Pixie Dream Guy, and the two are perfectly suited for each other. Their scenes jogging together are beautifully written and acted. And De Niro is a guy I think everyone knows–a man who identifies with something as meaningless as a sports team, which substitutes for the inadequacies of his own life. I feel bad for the guy this year, as the Eagles really stink.

And, as I said, Chris Tucker is well used as Cooper’s fellow inmate who has an obsession with his hair.

I didn’t find a false note in the picture, or a moment when it wasn’t totally absorbing. It’s the best film of the year so far.

My grade for Silver Linings Playbook: A.

About Jackrabbit Slim

Location: Vegas, Baby! I’m much older than the other whippersnappers here, a baby boomer. I tend to be more snobbish about film, disdaining a lot of the multiplex fare for “cinema.” My favorite films: Woody Allen’s oeuvre (up until about 1990), The Godfather, The Graduate, A Hard Day’s Night, Pulp Fiction. Politics: Well, George McGovern was my political hero. I’m also a prickly atheist. Occupation: Poised to be an English teacher in Las Vegas. For many years I was an editor at Penthouse Magazine. My role on this blog seems to be writing lots of reviews and being the resident Oscar maven.

8 responses »

  1. Agree completely. You’ve been spot on with your reviews recently Slim, by which I mean we’ve been in near complete agreement. I expect that to come to a screeching halt if/when you review LIFE OF PI though as I seem to be in the minority on that one.

  2. This movie was far too close to home for me to get lost in and enjoy. Not saying it’s bad by any stretch, just that it was very uncomfortable for me to watch…well, me.
    I can say that when the movie starts, you realize Cooper is so very good and you even see hints of the greatness of early DeNiro, something that has been lost for so long and you smile and you lose yourself in the amazing acting and Russell’s seamless direction and then, halfway through, in the diner, you realize Lawrence is a straight-up revelation…and you smile again and lose yourself in performances. It’s been some time since I can remember being lost in performances, but the earliest one that comes to mind is Midnight Run, where every line and gesture is a joy.

  3. There is also quite a great bit of camerawork that I think proves Russell is one of the best American directors working today. It is a shot that lasts a brief second, but says so much about a character and where that character is and it’s while they’re dancing, I think a little more than halfway through, if I remember correctly, and the camera alights on Cooper’s shoes, and they’re taped together and it struck me as some of the best ‘director shorthand’ I’ve seen in some time.

  4. I marvel at Russell’s ability to play with tone and atmosphere in an uinconventional way and make it all work so amazingly well. And someone once wrote a story about Jane Campion that said she simply knew exactly where to put the camera and I don’t think that fits with anyone any better than it does with Russell. His camera is never wrong, and it’s always, in fact, a step ahead of the viewer and places them exactly where they should be at all times.
    It’s a wonder to watch. Really.

  5. Saw this a couple of weeks back and have mixed feelings about it.

    I thought the first half was fantastic – the vitality and liveliness that characterised ‘The Fighter’ was there from the opening moments, perhaps at an even higher level. Russell is someone who really knows how to utilise and place the camera in small confined areas to grip the viewer.

    And the film was terrifically compelling, especially in scenes between Lawrence/Cooper in the diner and the crazed scene perfectly backed up the Led Zepplin music. At the halfway point, this looked like being a classic.

    But then… the film slowly began to go downhill as the intensity was replaced by tedious plot developments and the need for a ‘happy’ ending. The mental problems of the central characters seriously examined in the first half were cast off too easily in the second half.

    tbh I thought the film started to lose its way once the dance contest became such a key issue. Russell certainly filmed the dance rehersal scenes well but that plot strand just wasn’t that interesting to me. And it got even worse with that scene where all the main characters talk through the silly, contrived double bet which seemed liked it should belong in a lousy sitcom.

    1st half was fantastic, 2nd half a major disappointment.

    Rating: B-

  6. Oh, that’s funny, Marco-you mixed-up your reviews of Lincoln and Silver Linings. LOL.

  7. Man, on second view, I am far more on the side of Marco than I was initially. That second half drags, the dance sequence is interminable, and what could have been a tone-perfect ending to a beautiful movie has Jennifer Lawrence sitting on Bradley Cooper’s face after something like 15 minutes of dancing by them and others.

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