Old 11-21-2012, 12:00 AM
David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook

Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:



Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

“Silver Linings Playbook” is a film that’s as bipolar as its main character. On the one hand, it wants to be a film about the relationship between a man trying to reestablish himself in the world and a woman who’s equally as weird as he is, while on the other hand, it wants to be about a father trying to reconnect with his son through an obsessive love of the Philadelphia Eagles. One of these stories works really well, while the other comes off as more of a second fiddle that merely gets in the way. Basically what we have here is two films in one.

Pat (Bradley Cooper) has recently been released from a mental institution after an eight-month stay following an unfortunate incident where he caught his wife cheating on him. In order to have time to readjust to society, he moves in with his parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver) with his plan being to reconcile his marriage and to reclaim his old job at a school. Unfortunately, things aren’t that easy as his wife has moved away and the school wants nothing to do with him after what happened.

While reconnecting with an old friend of his, he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a strange woman whose husbandly was tragically killed while Pat was in the institution. They eventually become friends, but their relationship remains a bit of a mystery. Tiffany appears to be reaching out to him in hopes of connecting, while Pat still believes that he can fix his marriage with his wife, something that he believes Tiffany can assist with by getting a letter to her. However, Tiffany wants something in exchange for her help. In order for her to give his wife the letter, he has to agree to be her partner in an upcoming dance competition, something that Pat is very much against. However, since it means the possibility of communicating with his wife, he reluctantly agrees.

At this point, I imagine you’re re-reading the last part of that synopsis and saying “Wait, what?” Indeed that is exactly how randomly it occurs in the movie and is a big part of the reason why the film feels so split in two. The first half of “Silver Linings Playbook” is fantastic as it focuses on Pat’s return home and his readjustment to life outside of the institute. It gets even more fascinating as it introduces Tiffany, a woman who is as much of an oddball as he is.

Their relationship forms the core of the film. Pat’s the kind of guy who wants to believe that there’s going to be a happy ending, especially for his marriage. He even bursts into his parents’ bedroom in the middle of the night to rant about how Hemingway wrote a downbeat ending to “A Farewell to Arms,” all this after tossing the book straight through his window.

Meanwhile, Tiffany’s been trying to do her own adjusting after the tragic death of her husband. She’s apparently slept around a lot in an effort to get over it, but she’s never met anyone quite like Pat, which draws her towards him. At first, he is somewhat repulsed by how strange she is, but upon learning that she knows his wife, he decides to get to know her better.

This is what leads to the dance competition and is also where the film begins to lose focus. However, this is not the only random event occurring. At the same time, Pat’s father is trying to get him to watch the Eagles games with him, thinking that he’s good luck for the team. This eventually leads to a big bet in which Pat’s father wagers a lot of money on an upcoming game and on the dance competition that Pat and Tiffany are participating in.

This second half really does feel like a different film. Gone is the fascinating banter between Pat and Tiffany, as is their wonderful dynamic as they try to figure each other out, and all of it just to focus on events that feel forced into the story. It had been a wonderfully successful film up until it introduced the unnecessary subplots, so as to why the screenwriter (David O. Russell, adapting a novel by Matthew Quick) felt the need to introduce them is unknown.

Something else the first half had was a great sense of humor about it. This is another one of those situations where there doesn’t really seem like there’d be anything funny about it, and yet, Russell manages to squeeze out a lot of laughs. A large part of the credit has to go to the outstanding performances of Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, both of whom are definitely worthy of Oscar nods.

As I said, their dynamic drives most of the film, which made it an unfortunate choice to turn the film away from that to concentrate on less interesting matters. This is a really funny film with some great performances, but sadly the second half shows that Russell lost track of what was important in the story. This still balances out to a good movie, it’s just a little sad to see that it could have been great had it stayed on course. 3/4 stars.
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