posted 2012-11-21 21:25:11

Two Halves of the Same Whole

The new David O. Russell film about life, love and mental instability  

Jetta Weinstein

Contributing Writer

Silver Linings Playbook, the new film from director David O. Russell (The Fighter, I Heart Huckabees) is an engaging dramedy featuring a noteworthy cast, and nuanced writing and directing from Russell. Based on a novel of the same title by Matthew Quick, Playbook tells the story of Pat Solitano, Jr. (Bradley Cooper), a bipolar man who has just been released from a Baltimore psychiatric facility following a violent outburst. Upon returning home to Philadelphia with his mother (Jacki Weaver), Pat resumes his contentious relationship with his father, Pat, Sr. (Robert De Niro). The relationship fluctuates depending on whether an Eagles game is on television, which constantly seems to be the case in the Solitano household.

At a dinner held by his friends, Ronnie and Veronica (played by the underrated John Ortiz and the always attitudinal Julia Stiles), Pat is introduced to Veronica’s younger sister Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a young widow with neuroses of her own and a bold personality that both repulses and intrigues Pat. Whether Pat and Tiffany initially realize it or not, sparks fly and the rest of the film depicts the emotional recovery of these two lovably misguided souls. The characters’ chemistry is palpable and genuine, even in moments where they are hostile toward one another.
Cooper does an excellent job, but it’s Lawrence who breaks out of her teenage typecast roles to deliver a star-making performance. She has an undeniable vibrancy that is perfectly matched by Cooper’s own deftly shaded portrayal. De Niro and Weaver are in fine form as well. Australian actress Weaver speaks with an unsteady American accent, but her likability shines anyway. De Niro has perhaps his strongest acting showcase in years, particularly in a later scene where he sits on Cooper’s bed and talks about regrets he has regarding their relationship. Notable among the supporting actors are Anupam Kher as Cooper’s therapist, and Paul Herman (a stalwart of Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese films) as one of De Niro’s Eagles bookmaking buddies.
One of the loveliest aspects of the film are the dance routines that Cooper and Lawrence do as part of Tiffany’s determination to take part in a local dance competition. Cooper and Lawrence go all- out, running the gamut from hard rock to a Singin’ in the Rain homage. Even though the characters are supposed to be amateurs, it is clear that the actors put considerable effort into the dance sets.

The technical aspects of the film are impressive as well. The cinematography by Masanobu Takayanagi (Warrior, The Grey) creates a realistic atmosphere, even as it sometimes casts the stars in a washed-out haze to match the characters’ shifting moods. Jay Cassidy’s editing and Danny Elfman’s score (Nightmare Before Christmas, The Simpsons) are similarly well-suited to the film’s temperament.

All told, Silver Linings Playbook is a first-rate film that deserves to be seen. It had great success at the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival, where the film won the People’s Choice Award. The current buzz surrounding Playbook’s chances for accolades during Oscar season seems a palpable reality.