Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Movie Review : Silver Linings Playbook (2012)


I don't usually go out of my way to see Oscar-nominated movies. SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK actually won one and was nominated in seven others. The mystifying Jennifer Lawrence went home with the trophy for best support actress, which was something bound to happen since she killed it in WINTER'S BONE in 2010. Romantic comedies are even less my thing, but SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK has been directed by David O. Russell, who had floored me with his dirty, crummy, realistic account of Micky Ward's life, THE FIGHTER. So it doesn't matter what colors they're wearing because it's the players that make the team, right? So how was it? There was some good and some bad, but SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK is a very good film overall. Thought it bent backwards a bit to satisfy the romantic comedy demographic, but there is no major transgression here. The movie has a cohesive vision and a clear purpose. That's already a lot.

Pat (Bradley Cooper) has been institutionalized for some time after beating the ever-loving shit out of his wife's secret lover *. He leaves the psychiatric facility to go live with his parents and get his life together. He has only one this on his mind though, get back together with his wife Nikki (Brea Bee), who happens to have a restraining order against him. Pat suffer from a heavy from of bipolar disorder so he starts obsessing with Nikki really bad. Over at his friend Ronnie's (John Ortiz) one night, he meet Ronnie's wife's sister Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) who seems as deep into her problems as he is. Her husband died, she lost her job and has lost control of her life. She immediately shows interest in him, but all he can think about is Nikki, so Tiffany tells Pat Nikki's a friend of her sister and promise to deliver her a letter he wrote. In exchange, Pat accepts to participate to a ballroom dancing contest with Tiffany. I'm sure you can figure out what happens from here.

What SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK does very well is portraying mental diseases in a realistic light. There are no straight jackets in that film. Nobody hallucinates or gets murderously violent. There are people obsessing over things, showing disregard for their own health and the physical and psychological integrity of the people they love. The scene where Pat is looking for his wedding video at 4 A.M and wakes up the entire household is beautiful, difficult, hilarious and heart-wrenching. Speaking of which, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are gooood. Not good. They are goooooooooooood. Lawrence's performance makes it crystal-clear why she won the Oscar. She can empty her stare completely. She has those scenes where she looks completely gone and all that's in her eyes is the all-consuming disease. Jennifer Lawrence can reach peaks of emotional intensity no other working actresses can.

The romantic storyline between Pat and Tiffany bugged me a little. SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK took such a no-bullshit approach to mental diseases, it makes the sugar-coated romantic approach dissonant with the movie's biggest strength. It's so...conventional? Pat and Tiffany are two highly unstable people who visibly  find each other attractive and are put in sexual tension situations all the time. They should let the beast go wild, tear each other apart, reconcile, wash, rinse, repeat. No, they both act like teenage heartthrobs in each other's presence. I get it. It's the whole he's-THE-ONE-so-I-want-everything-to-be-perfect approach, which is familiar and comforting and it could be explained through Tiffany's tragic background, yet it's a missed opportunity to stay true to the terrific characters. Oh and that ballroom dancing scene ** is a ridiculous exercise in corny symbolism. If Pat and Tiffany would've danced a fiery tango it would've 1) been a much more beautiful, cohesive and less obvious scene between two capable actors and 2) it could have expressed their struggle with mental diseases a lot better.

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK is a movie for serious romantic people. I liked it. It has its flaws, but there are a bunch of good, minor decisions taken in satellite of the Cooper/Lawrence duo that makes up for them. Robert de Niro as Pat's father is particularly moving, as he tries to mend fences with his son through sport. The portrait David O. Russell traces of what sports means to men in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK is both emotional and accurate. One of my favorite scenes of the entire movie was seeing Pat, loosening up and having fun at a football game. Overall, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK is an interesting compromise film that you can enjoy along with your girlfriend/wife. There is truth and romance co-existing in this movies, not always well but Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence work hard enough to make most of the issues inconsequential.

FOUR STARS ***


* That said, if the same exact thing happened to me, with the same exact words said, I don't know if I would've kept my cool. The scene was beautiful and horrific all at once. 

** Because they eventually make it to the contest. I'm not spoiling anything by telling you that.

*** Giving it a ranking was hard. I hesitated between three or four, but in the end, the corny romantic aspect didn't frustrate me or anything and there's a limit to how you can downgrade a movie for not being everything that it could've. But I would have really loved Pat and Tiffany to dance a soul-stealing tango instead of doing that stupid mash-up thing that's suppose to represent bipolarity. 


11 comments:

  1. Great review! Thanks!
    I was on the fence about this movie, not being all that in to romance myself... But i definitely want to see it now. :)

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  2. Thanks. It's not deliberately sappy or anything. It just follows the beaten path to a certain extent. It's disappointing because at times, it's a movie that thinks for itself.

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    1. money men get in there and muddle stuff up with expectations, I think. A lot of good movies are damaged that way, it seems. I am very interested in the characters. The mental health/actor combo.

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  3. I still need to see this movie. I'm behind on watching all the television series that I follow. Then I made time to go see that awful Ironman 3. What a waste of time.

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  4. Believe it or not, I haven't see any of the Iron Man movies. Only The Avengers!

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  5. I think this one was a nice try. It was intentionally tonally, you know, bipolar, a mix of rom-com and dark character drama, but I don't think it fully pulled it off. The last third or so is just *too* sillytown for my tastes and ending with a dance-off made me raise Little Miss Sunshine-style eyebrows. Cooper was surprisingly strong and I enjoyed myself okay but but it's a B-/C+ at best overall.

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  6. I didn't see it as willingly trying to be dark. Just be realistic about mental diseases and trying oh-so-hard to make a romantic story about that. Like I said in the review, there was a possibility to make something really moving with the dance-off and yet David O. Russell sat on his porch and watch the train pass by on this one.

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  7. Good review Ben. Just the right mix of humor and drama, and officially puts Bradley Cooper into a whole new league.

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  8. I've watched it three times now. I loved the juxtaposition of Lawrence and Cooper both being haunted by a former spouse - his living, hers dead - and how they each devolved mentally and emotionally from those points. If it's a romantic comedy at all, it's an atypical one. And, in all fairness, that particular genre needs to have more thoughtful material explored rather than the same cookie cutter b.s. that normally defines it. Why can't a romantic comedy be about serious people in emotionally perilous situations, be relatable, and still maintain an intelligence about it? That's what SLP answers in my opinion.

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  9. @Dan - Thanks man! Thanks for dropping by. I appreciate.

    @Dustin - I think it tries hard of being what you describe, Dustin, but it comes up short in those moments where it loses individuality and becomes just every other movie. But it has its moments.

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  10. This film contains many laugh out loud moments and a number of scenes that will warm your heart to the point where you can't help but leave the theater smiling.

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