Review: Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook

(M) ***

Director: David O. Russell.

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker.

BACK in 1999, David O. Russell made an unconventional war film called Three Kings, which was fantastic and rightfully attracted a great response from critics and audiences alike.

It put Russell on the map, and he followed it with an unconventional comedy (I Heart Huckabees) and the Oscar-nominated The Fighter.

Now he's attempting an unconventional romantic-comedy that has also attracted Oscar nominations.

The problem is Silver Linings Playbook is not as unconventional as it wants to be, nor does it feel up to its nod for best picture.

It's not as adventurous or exciting or enjoyable as Argo, The Life Of Pi, Django Unchained or even Beast Of The Southern Wild.

Having said that, Silver Linings Playbook is a pleasing film in its own right and often intriguing. And while it may not be best picture material, it does boast four excellent performances.

Cooper plays Patrick Solitano, a former teacher who is in a mental institution following an incident that landed a restraining order between himself and his wife.

Upon his release into the care of his parents (De Niro and Weaver), Patrick tries to continue improving himself and re-engage contact with his estranged wife, which he hopes to do through his friend's sister-in-law Tiffany (Lawrence).

Cooper, Lawrence, De Niro and Weaver are all excellent. Lawrence is the pick of the bunch - she is exhilirating and chaotic yet utterly believable as a young widow whose screws are loosened by grief - while Cooper captures his character's bipolar well, De Niro gives his best turn in over a decade, and Weaver is wonderfully understated. 

At it's best, Silver Linings Playbook has an edge, some occasionally hilarious dark humour and sporadic bursts of intriguing camerawork and film-making.

There are interesting ideas at work in here, such as the way it explores second chances, notions of "crazy/normal", the place and impact of violence, issues in dealing with mental illness and grief, and some implicit notions and double standards about female sexuality that are brilliantly underplayed (much like than uncharacteristically subdued Danny Elfman score). 

But these things don't get past the fact this is a rom-com dressed up as an Oscar-baiting "dramedy". It's a good rom-com thanks to it's edge, and I have nothing against rom-coms (my favourites are Annie Hall and 500 Days Of Summer), but this occasionally has the bad traits of a bad rom-com.

Too often, Silver Linings Playbook is contrived and trite and feels like it's taking the easy route at times, slipping into rom-com cliche with disturbing ease.

As for the ending, well, you should rightly be suspicious of any film that climaxes with a big dance number (unless it's Napoleon Dynamite), but the fact that this one seems to tie in with some kind of idea that mental illness can be cured through the power of dance and love threatens to tip the film into the schmaltz bucket as it goes in search of a happy ending.

But once again, let's not forget that this is an enjoyable film. Is it worthy of potentially taking home the best picture Oscar? Probably not.

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