A screenshot from "Silver Linings Playbook" featuring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. (Photo : The Weinstein Company)
The romantic comedy is a much-maligned genre from a critical standpoint. Most of these films are predictable and live and die by cheap one-liners. These poor conceptions are mainly primed to jolt audiences for quick moments, but rarely ever immerse one in the depth and world of its characters. It is rare that a film of said genre truly takes the viewer on that often tread path and leaves them not only enthralled with the journey, but anxiously awaiting to take it once again. David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook fits the latter category of films, reinvigorates the genre, and is easily one of the best films of the year.
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Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) is being taken home after serving eight months in a mental institute. His one aim is to get his marriage back on track with his cheating wife. One day he encounters Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), another former patient of a mental institute, who is still having trouble dealing with the death of her husband. The film follows the formation of their bond and while one knows the ultimate outcome of the film, Russell does a strong job of throwing unexpected but subtle twists into the proceedings. He also manages to aptly weave a number of unique subplots including Pat's relationship with his football-obsessed father (Robert DeNiro) as well as a number of other minor characters that have positive impacts on Tiffany and Patrick's growing relationship.
Russell's style is rather subdued in this film as opposed to the grittiness of The Fighter or energetic Three Kings. He rarely indulges in elaborate long takes save for a few scenes near the end of the film and most of his grammar in this film consists of close-ups and conservative wide shots. He does however utilize the dolly-in technique quite often for dramatic effect, but the overuse plays into the comic moments of the film and makes this type of shot feel organic to the film.
Russell's restrained stylistic choices enable the attention of the viewer to focus on the main element that truly carries this film: the actors.
Bradley Cooper has, to his own detriment, often delved into superficial comic fare in Hollywood, but he proves that he deserves better here. His Pat is energetic from the get-go; it is almost impossible to stop him from talking. He almost rambles at times incessantly and makes more inappropriate comments than appropriate ones as Tiffany notes at one point. But there is childlike innocence about his character that makes him identifiable and sympathetic to the viewer. As the relationship with Tiffany blossoms, Pat quietly transforms into a more mature being, even though he never quite lets go of the hints of childishness. It makes Pat refreshing and works well to dissuade any notions or stereotypes about those dealing with mental issues.
Cooper's partner Jennifer Lawrence delivers what may be the best performance of her young career. In her initial scene, Tiffany comes off as cold and a bit off-putting. But she slowly opens up and reveals the sensitive young woman that resembles the emotional core of the film. She brings out the tenderness in Patrick and even though she gives off her frailty in many scenes, she balances them with scenes that showcase hard-edged control, confidence, and a wealth of intelligence. The complexity of this character and Lawrence's performance not only makes her all the more fascinating, but also elevates it into one of the clear-cut best performances of the year.
Robert DeNiro showcases his best performance in years as Pat's father. He brings his usual grumpy demeanor to the role, but without any of the facial tricks he's relied on in recent years. His performance is so committed that it makes his character's obsession with Football riveting. But DeNiro is not simply there for laughs however. He gets the opportunity to carry what may be the most tender scene in the film as he tries to reconnect with his son. Later in the film, DeNiro also prompts another gentle moment with Cooper's Patrick to finalize a triumphant turn for the veteran.
The rest of the cast is equally engaging including Chris Tucker doing some of the best work of his career without ever going over the top; Jacki Weaver's sensitive but tough nature serves as a nice mirror to Lawrence's Tiffany; and Anupam Kher steals a number of scenes with pitch-perfect deliveries.
From a technical standpoint, this film is nearly flawless with the exception of some sound mixing. There were many scenes where the motor of the camera was slightly audible and while it was never particularly distracting, it was clear during one of the more quiet and emotional scenes of the film. Danny Elfman acquits himself quite well with a subdued but nuanced score and editor Jay Cassidy seamlessly cuts around the nuanced performances, all the while keeping the energy and propulsion of the story in tact.
The audience I watched the film with could not stop laughing and let out a liberating round of applause during the film's climax. Russell's film, led by a pitch perfect cast, gives its audience the cathartic experience that its main characters seek out during its entirety. Regardless of whether the viewer is simply seeking laughs or a deeper, uplifting affirmation of the human spirit, Silver Linings Playbook will easily prove to be one of the most fulfilling films of the year.
Other Film Reviews by David Salazar