The Silver Linings Playbook was a movie that wasn’t really on peoples radar at the start of the festival circuit. Everyone knew it was directed by David O. Russell and had an amazing cast, but that was about it. Then it won the TIFF People’s Choice Award and now it is a serious contender for the Oscars early next year. The film follows Pat, a man released from a mental ward after an incident with his ex-wife, as he tries to rebuild his life and relationships. The stellar cast includes Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro and the always amazing Jennifer Lawrence. Watch the trailer after the jump, then read my full review.
I saw this movie at TIFF after it was announced as the winner of People’s Choice and was expecting a dark look at mental illness and how it destroys families. This movie is far from that. It is very funny, finding many situations to include sudden, powerful jokes that the characters don’t laugh at. It highlights a real issue that people struggle with everyday, but Russell has found a perfect balance between drama and comedy, which benefits the movie greatly. Everyone deals with mental illness differently, in real life and on the film, and watching these characters (an amazing actors) interact and try to understand their problems is very entertaining.
The cast, especially the three leads, are all spectacular. As you see in the trailer, this is not a movie about plot, it is a movie about people, and everyone plays their role perfectly. Cooper rises above his persona from just “that one guy in The Hangover” to legitimate acting, something he tried (and failed) to do with last year’s Limitless. Here he plays the suffering Pat so convincingly, so awkwardly and so funny that you root for his character to find his wife (even though it is clear that won’t happen). There a subtle things, like when he runs wearing a garbage bag or rants about Hemingway for hours, that don’t need explaining, but add to his character’s struggles and personality. Cooper takes the role very seriously, has wide eyes and an innocent look on his face the whole time, and could score some nominations for it.
De Niro plays Pat’s father, Pat Sr. who has struggles of his own. He is such a big fan of the Philadelphia Eagles that he is band from the stadium because of fighting in the stands. He wants to help his son Pat and loves him very much, but cannot comprehend mental illness at all. His first scene of the movie has him asking his wife (played by the charming Jackie Weaver) if the doctors are letting Pat out, multiple times. De Niro sells the paranoid father role and has some great speeches with Pat where you believe his words. The supporting actor category is busy this year, but he might just squeeze a nomination in.
But of course the star of the show is Jennifer Lawrence, who like in Winter’s Bone, plays a role that most young women could not even come close to performing. At only 22 years of age, Lawrence plays Tiffany, a distressed widow who is lost without her husband and struggling with similar problems to Pat. She absorbs herself into the role and is very funny, simply because her life really couldn’t have any more problems and she knows it. Her most memorable scene sees her drinking a beer while lecturing Pat Sr. and the rest of the cast on the NFL, shown with very chaotic camera shots and spoken with such power. It was a turning point for the character and the other characters, a monologue that not only captured the plot, but also offered a commentary on how everyone sees mental illness. Lawrence is one of the few actresses today that could pull this off. From the movies I’ve seen so far, she is leading the Best Actress competition by a mile, but there are some movies (such as Les Miserables) which might present some competition.
The other parts of this movie, the cinematography and score, do their job well too, without getting in the way of the performances. As I mentioned above, this is a character movie and nothing more, so it is shot so that we are watching what is happening without anything super fancy that is distracting. The music is the same. Besides the scenes where they dance, it is quiet and hidden, allowing the characters’ voices to be heard (unlike in The Dark Knight Rises).
Russell has directed character drams before, with his most recent film The Fighter nabbing best supporting awards for Christian Bale and Melissa Leo. I liked Silver Linings Playbook more than The Fighter both for the humour and for it’s portrayal of a broken family. The family from The Fighter falls from grace when Mark Wahlberg stops boxing, while the Silver Linings Playbook shows a family that is just like any other, living in suburban Philadelphia and looking perfectly normal on the outside. I prefer this representation of a struggling family and a man rebuilding himself, dancing instead of fighting, and think Playbook will be the movie that defines Russell’s career. It’s that good and everyone should see it when it opens November 23.