Friday, December 28, 2012

Despite the Idiotic Title, "Silver Linings Playbook" Is Worth Watching

Silver Linings Playbook - Written and directed by David O. Russell, starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, John Ortiz, Shea Whigham, Dash Mihok, and Chris Tucker - Rated R
Writer/director David O. Russell made one of my favorite films a couple of years ago with The Fighter.  I was impressed with the style, the music selection, and, most importantly, the story that was ingrained with the location.  Oh, and the great performances helped a bit, too.  Now with Silver Linings Playbook, Russell has created a movie on the same level as The Fighter, though Silver Linings is a bit weaker than that great film.
Before a critique of this film can truly begin, I have to mention the idiotic title of this film.  Silver Linings Playbook.  When people hear or read that title, they have no clue what you’re talking about, even if they’ve seen the previews.  It’s just such a needlessly stupid title.  This is not as bad as Russell’s other effort, I Heart Huckabees, but it’s close.  The problem with these quirky titles is that it drives people away.  Hell, the title made me want to hate the movie before I saw it.  There’s a very easy fix for this.  Drop the Playbook part.  Yeah, football factors into the film quite a bit, but this film could just as easily been called Silver Linings and lost nothing.  You can tell the film company felt the same way because in every preview I have seen, the narrator drops Playbook from the title, and the word is extremely smaller than the other words on the poster.
Title aside, this is a fun, touching film.  Bradley Cooper plays Pat, a former teacher who has a mental breakdown when he catches his wife cheating on him.  He’s recently out of a mental hospital and is trying to get his life together in the hopes of rekindling his marriage.  When he meets fellow troubled person Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), things get a bit more complicated. 
This is a film that hinges on performances, as both leads are mentally unstable.  Cooper does a very good job with a character that could easily become infuriating to watch.  He gets into these rapid verbal trains of thought that can be tiring, but he handles them quite well (the direction from Russell helps).  He has this natural charisma that makes it impossible to hate him no matter how rude or exhausting he becomes.  It is truly one of the year’s best performances. 
Jennifer Lawrence continues her streak of great performances with Silver Linings.  She doesn’t get to do as much as Cooper here, but she has plenty of emotionally heavy scenes that she carries with ease, and she complements Cooper quite well.  The rest of the cast, including Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Shea Whigham, John Ortiz, and Chris Tucker, is fine, but this film belongs to Cooper and Lawrence.
Writer/director Russell makes it an easy film to watch, too.  This could be a darkly serious tale of mental health, but Russell is beginning to trademark this serious-funny element.  In The Fighter, Christian Bale’s addiction was treated seriously, but there were also moments of comedy.  It’s awkward, but it’s life.  Plenty of times I found myself laughing during Silver Linings even though I knew it was kind of wrong, and I think that was the intent of the filmmakers.  Also, Russell has developed this style of following the characters with the camera that is very effective, especially when you’re dealing with mentally troubled characters.  When Pat is about to lose it, the camera swirls around him as he tries to rein things in, only to lose control.  It’s not in-your-face style or anything; it creates a sensation similar to what the character must be going through.
If Silver Linings ever loses anybody, it might be with the slightly goofy plot.  The film’s final moments hinge on the result of a football game and a ballroom dancing contest.  As weird as that is, it gets even goofier as the characters plan out these moments and literally root for their side to win.  I suppose it was meant to be figurative as they cheer for their sports but are actually cheering for their loved ones, but it still felt a little stupid at times.  Also, the plot element with the police officer who shadows Pat felt a bit incomplete and, at times, ridiculous.  I would have to spoil a few things to get into that point, so just look to the end of the review if you’ve seen the film and want to know what I’m talking about.
Aside from those shortcomings, Silver Linings is a fine film.  It’s not going to make my top ten list or even my honorable mention (it just didn’t grab me like The Fighter did), but it’s certainly one of the better films to come out this year, and it deserves a larger audience than it has gained so far.  If you get a chance, check it out.  You’ll laugh, maybe cry, stare in bafflement, get annoyed, you know…life stuff.  Just try to ignore that stupid title.
Random Thoughts (SPOILERS)
All I want to get into here is that cop, played by Dash Mihok.  I enjoyed Mihok's performance and everything, but I was left very confused by the character's presence.  So the cop is set up as this neighborhood officer who is supposed to keep an eye out for Pat since he's just been released from the mental hospital.  First off, does that actually happen?  Is Philadelphia such a safe city that police officers can be assigned to body guard duty for random citizens?  That rung completely false to me.  Things get extremely strange when the cop just happens to show up every time Pat starts to mess up.  if it's at his house, fine, but how was the cop so close to Pat outside the movie theatre that he could step in so quickly?  Was he really just following Pat around?  It got to the point that I thought the cop was part of Pat's subconscious and the cop represented his mind physically attempting to calm the situation down.  Maybe that is the case, but it's certainly never explained that way, and I feel that there should have been more explained concerning the cop.  But maybe it's just me.


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