Sunday, November 25, 2012

Movie Review: "Silver Linings Playbook"

In many of his movie roles, Bradley Cooper tends to portray self-confident, sometimes cocky characters, who appear (at least on the surface) to have control over their lives, with a gleam in their eyes as they get whatever they want. While his performances are always captivating (and of course, he's very nice to look at), you can't help but wonder how much of that confidence is Cooper's own and how much of that is his acting.

To watch Cooper play a character at the opposite end of that spectrum proves how strong of an actor he really is. In the terrifically funny and poignant Silver Linings Playbook, Cooper plays Pat Solitano, Jr., a former history teacher who was recently released from a mental hospital (against doctor's orders) by his mother (Jacki Weaver), much to the surprise and disbelief of his brusque father (Robert De Niro).

Pat has had a run of bad luck, being hospitalized as part of a plea bargain after an incident that cost him his job, his marriage, his house, and his freedom. But now he is determined to change his life and live more positively—he exercises rigorously, tries to find the silver lining in every situation, and he is determined to make himself over into a better person, so he can rekindle his marriage and move out of his parents' home. His parents want Pat to get control over his illness and not try to reopen old wounds, plus his superstitious bookie father wants him to watch all of the Philadelphia Eagles' games at home, since he has determined Pat brings the team good luck when he's present during games.

When Pat meets the equally troubled and recently widowed Tiffany (an incendiary, emotional Jennifer Lawrence), he is completely thrown for a loop by her manic mood swings and her desire to be his friend, which keeps him off balance. Tiffany promises to help him secretly get into contact with his estranged wife if he agrees to be her partner in a dance competition. But keeping his end of the bargain is tougher (and sometimes more enjoyable) than he thought, and it causes ripples among his family as well.

This is a movie about regaining your confidence and finding the positive in the challenges you face, never easy tasks. Pat talks a lot about trying to be his "best self," and in doing so, comes to the realization that the things he thinks he wants aren't always the things that he really wants, nor are they always best for him.

Based on a terrific book by Matthew Quick, Silver Linings Playbook skillfully skirts the line between humorous (even hysterically funny at times), poignant, and introspective. David O. Russell, whose last movie was the brooding-but-uplifting The Fighter, brings some of the quirkiness of his earlier movies (Flirting with Disaster, Spanking the Monkey, even I Heart Huckabees), but he never pushes too hard to manipulate your emotions.

Jennifer Lawrence is once again a revelation in this movie; at times explosive and emotional, at times a confident anchor, I found myself saying, "Wow," a few times during her scenes. Bradley Cooper showed a lot of depth and vulnerability in his performance, and I found myself rooting for his character even while he was making a mess of things. It was fun to see Robert De Niro smile every now and again, although at times he slipped into typical De Niro-isms (which still isn't bad). Chris Tucker (Rush Hour) has a recurring and amusing role as one of Pat's friends from the mental hospital.

As we head into the heavy and serious movies released for Oscar consideration, Silver Linings Playbook is definitely a lighter alternative. But don't mistake its lightness for lack of substance or appeal—this is a very enjoyable, well-acted movie that makes you feel while it's making you laugh, and I hope to see it get some recognition come Oscar time.

1 comment:

  1. One of the best movies of the year for me. It just made me laugh, made me happy, made me a bit sad, and even had me tear-up just a bit. The last act or so gets a bit conventional, but that’s pretty much expected of material like this and that was all fine with me because of how much fun I had with the final-product. Good review LHH.