Here’s a hard sell of a movie: A romantic comic/drama about mental illness, football, and ballroom dancing based on a first book by an unknown author (the book itself also featuring a a plot point about Kenny G?!). The solid cast and stellar director of course help bring prestige…but with and unwieldy title and a difficult to market plot, this film has everything against it. Which is weirdly sort of perfect
“Silver Linings Playbook” is really several movies in one. Director David O. Russell weaves a masterful portrait of a seriously mentally unhinged man who believes that he can bring his life back together by always finding the silver lining. That his life is a mess, his family is a mess in a whole new way and his wife has a restraining order against him seem to be mild stumbling blocks in his quest to be well. To him at least. Russell also brings us the tale of a police officer’s widow with a past and a passion for dance who also has some severe imbalances. There’s also a story of a deeply OCD/superstitious man who’s risking his family’s future on his restaurant dreams and becoming a small time Philadelphia bookie. Any of those could make an OK movie on it’s own, but that this is all one story of love, family, and the struggle to find balance in a world where silver linings are hard to come by make this truly a work of art.
Russell’s directing is subtle yet powerful. The audience feels the madness, that we understand about as much as the characters. The world we are immersed in feels familiar yet suffocatingly alien all at once and leads to possibly the most bizarre third act in any film I can think of. And while I liked the ending, I think it could’ve been far more affecting than the final product. It’s like the script pulled up from it’s nose dive into full on crazy and when it leveled off it found itself in a remake of “Dirty Dancing” of all things and then just got confused. And, I mean, it works in a way but it’s also so abrupt that it feels less like a payoff and more like a write off. And the worst part, is that the ending is completely earned but the process of getting there isn’t. Never seen that happen before!
I would be surprised, come award season, if we’re not hearing buzz about Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro. All three deliver stellar performances against a fairly anemic supporting cast (including the long-missing Julia Stiles who does as much as she can with what she’s given) allowing them to shine all the brighter (or were they so good they eclipsed the rest?) Lawrence in particular, as I’m only really familiar with her work from “The Hunger Games,” was just great-she inhabited this role with passion and intensity.
This film is not for everybody. Be it the subject matter, the story or they just can’t handle watching someone so (on the surface?) fundamentally unlikable as Cooper’s and Lawrence’s characters. But, if you can lock into the story, or if you find yourself identifying maybe a little too much with some of the characters less positive traits, what you’ll find is an uplifting if bittersweet film. A film as crazy in some ways as it’s characters. A-