My full review:
If I had not seen (and enjoyed) films by David O. Russell before, I might have been convinced that this was his first time behind the camera. Silver Linings Playbook is a mishmash of tones and ideas ultimately more interested in being a “crowd pleaser” than something real. That last part’s okay; I’ll fully admit to being a sap and loving a well executed romantic comedy or happy ending. This is a film about silver linings and positive attitudes, after all, and I think we can reasonably expect going in that the resolution will be a good one. In fact, despite not quite making sense to me in terms of the headspace of our lead character, Bradley Cooper’s Pat Solitano, the ending did indeed leave a smile on my face. But much like the unconvincing way in which Pat arrives at his life-altering final decision, Silver Linings Playbook fails to possess a believable connective tissue or appropriate balance and thus never succesfully accomplishes anything it sets out to do.
It can be tricky to make a film about characters with mental illness that also wants to be a light, palatable film for audiences. The question becomes: how far and deep do you go? You don’t want to alienate the audience or make your characters too dark and unlikeable, nor do you want to gloss over the symptoms are ultimately end up lampooning these conditions, however subtle. I’m not quite sure Silver Linings ever finds this balance. His blue eyes piercing, his face bruised, his mouth moving an unfiltered mile-a-minute, Bradley’s portrayal of a hurt, “undiagnosed bipolar” man trying to get his life back together consists of a series of tics and gestures that never quite land. When Cooper is given the opportunity to cut the external vices to a minimum and dig a little deeper, he becomes entirely more soulful and real. Mostly, though, his good work is betrayed by the penchant to focus on quirks and mood swings and rude statements that the audience is ultimately supposed to find charming. This issue runs throughout the veins of the film: these are all damaged and sick characters in their own way, from Robert DeNiro’s impassioned, gambling-addicted, OCD father (DeNiro is as good as he’s been in 20 years) to John Ortiz’s Ronnie who’s stress and confusion and deep unhappiness is played for laughs. Much of this material made me wildly uncomfortable. If this is a comedy (however light or dark you want to say it is), I felt as if I was being tricked into laughing at these people instead of ever warming up to them or coming to love them.
Then there’s Tiffany. Jennifer Lawrence is the film’s greatest asset stuck in a character that is the film’s biggest problem. Lawrence is a phenomenal actress, beautiful enough to be considered an “It girl” but real enough to disappear into a role such as her Oscar-nominated work in Winter’s Bone. Tiffany is every bit as “crazy” as Pat (as the film so often reminds us), faced with intense grief and a downward spiral of sex addiction and bad behavior. Lawrence is acerbic and raw and achieves an honesty while always maintaing the strange humor of the situation, but she is betrayed by the film’s need to make everything all about Pat. We can say that this is a film wherein the man and the woman “save each other,” but instead Tiffany exists as some sort of strange and deranged idealization of the male fantasy, existing purely to help Pat reach his better place. This is a major issue; Tiffany and Pat are defined purely and singularly by their mental illnesses. There is very little to them beyond their singular goals created by their need to get better, and in the end the film chooses to be about Pat and not about Pat and Tiffany together.
David O. Russell’s filmmaking is sloppy and nonsensical, with a whipping camera and song choices and mild effects that have no substantial purpose. His stylistic choices overshadow any moment in which the film could have cut the quirky comedy and approached something more honest. It left my head confused as I wondered why the camera was spinning or tracking in that fashion. Composition and camera-work should feel purposeful and meaningful; this just calls unfortunate attention to itself. Like much of the film, it strikes as part of a misguided approach to find that balance between lovable and silly comedy and something resembling the edge of Russell’s earlier work. Characters spend a lot of time yelling and screaming at each other (the Solitano family dynamic reminds of the similarly shrill bantering of the Ward/Ecklund family in Russell’s The Fighter) in a tone that suggests we are supposed to find their craziness hilarious and endearing but instead just left me uncomfortable. Characters like Anupam Kher’s Doctor and Chris Tucker’s fellow mental patient Danny (thankfully Tucker is relatively restrained) are reduced to stereotypes, much like the film’s portrayal of Philadelphia and Eagles football culture. And the film has more contrivances that you can shake a stick at (apparently Dash Mihok’s Officer Keogh is the only police officer in Philadelphia.) Ultimately this matters very little when the film lacks any semblance of humanity. You can argue that this is a comedy or meant to be taken lightly, but the film itself argues that much of this should be taken seriously even if it never actually does.
Last edited by SpikeDurden; 11-17-2012 at 02:01 AM..