David O. Russell’s latest film Silver Linings Playbook, has been lauded by a number of critics but the praise seems excessive given the way the film lurches awkwardly between gritty indie movie and formula rom com.
Much like As Good As It Gets, this film mixes themes of mental illness and redemption with romantic comedy. Unfortunately, it lacks the assurance, astute eye for character and painful laughs of As Good as it Gets. Silver Linings also adds kitchen sink working-class drama that recalls Russell’s previous film The Fighter but often undermines its dramatic impact with miscalculated humour and quirky plot devices. As a result, the film constantly shifts from being potent and insightful to clumsy and unconvincing. Fortunately, some strong scenes and fine performances, particularly from “it girl” Jennifer Lawrence, make this an intriguing and occasionally moving romantic drama.
Bradley Cooper plays Pat a familiar figure on the low-budget indie film landscape, the unusual, supposedly sympathetic outcast. After being released from a psychiatric hospital where he had been incarcerated for assaulting his wife’s lover and been diagnosed with bipolar mood disorder, he returns to his parents’ (Robet de Niro and Jackie Weaver) working class Philadelphia home. Despite a restraining order, Pat believes he can rekindle his relationship with wife Nikki and launches into a self-improvement programme that unfortunately involves running through the streets wearing a garbage bag and angrily trawling through the high school English syllabus Nikki teaches. His strange journey sees him literally run into the equally troubled Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) who treats him with equal measures of hostility and affection.
The film begins promisingly with vigorous, crackling dialogue that establishes the odd, intense relationships between Pat and his family and friends. Soon, though, the film becomes an incongruous mix of drama and quirky comedy that never feels quite right. Individual outbursts and confrontations between characters are often powerful and full of volatile emotion but the pieces of this film don’t entirely fit together. A strange diversion into the world of American football and a dance contest that seems like it belongs in a clichéd rom com both seem weirdly out of place.
In the central role of Pat, Brad Cooper is neither entirely convincing as someone suffering from a mental illness nor completely sympathetic. To convey his mental illness, the film just has him saying weird, tactless things, erupting with anger or engaging in screwball comedy banter with Tiffany. He seems more of a comic creation rather than a genuinely troubled human being. Lawrence, however, manages to overcome most of the script’s pitfalls and invests her character with convincing raw emotion. De Niro, whose output has been erratic and even embarrassing in recent decades, delivers one of his better performances as a man also suffering psychological problems. Jacki Weaver is fine in the role of the Mother trying to hold these disparate people together but she’s mostly relegated to the background.
Silver Linings Playbook is an odd concoction but its best aspects namely Lawrence, De Niro and some excellent music choices just manage to trump its failings.
Nick’s rating: Three stars.
Director(s): David O. Russell
Release date: 31st Jan 2013
Running time: 122 mins.
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