Silver Linings Playbook Review: Giving the festering rom-com genre a much needed face-lift
If further proof were needed of the imminent Mayan apocalypse then one need look no further than Silver Linings Playbook, the new film from renowned director David O Russell who recently achieved a knockout Oscar blow with his award winning Boston pugilist drama The Fighter. That’s not to say that Silver Linings is a bad film, on the contrary this slightly twisted, humorous take on the saccharine sickness of the traditional Hollywood romantic comedy is a refreshing twist on that most moribund and formulaic of genres, its just difficult to imagine a more perverted inversion of the sprightly infused search for true love by staggeringly attractive people with this briskly energetic tale of neurologically ravaged sociopaths navigating the affairs of the heart, offending their friends and family, and wrestling with their infernal psychosis with a poisonously amusing levity. The film won the peoples choice awards at this years Toronto International Film Festival – always a good start to box office appreciation and awards laden kudos further down the line – and appears to have charmed the majority of critics who have fallen for its corrupted charms, its frantic fragmentation of genre amour given a festering genre a much needed face-lift.
With a screenplay adapted by Russell from the cult novel of Matthew Quick the storm clouds have gathered over the disintegrating life of Pat Salitano (a convincingly manic Bradley Cooper, dispelling the smarmy WASP of The Hangover movies) a recently diagnosed bi-polar sufferer whom has been enduring a court appointed treatment at the local psychiatric hospital following a violent altercation with his wife’s Nikki adulteress lover. Sprung out by his loving mother Dolores (a slightly underused Jacki Weaver) Pat is determined to get his life back on track and reunite with his estranged wife, the only slight problem being the restraining order Slightly detached and deluded from reality in his fervent hope that his marriage can be salvaged when he gets home to the middle class suburbs of Pittsburgh we begin to see the genetic roots of Pat’s mental malaise, his father Pat Sr. (De Niro, superb) an OCD afflicted renegade gambler who has his own series of unique ticks and traditions when supporting his beloved Eagles football team, not necessarily a dysfunctional family but certainly a clan afflicted with its own destabilising quirks and ailments. A despairing at his chances a dwindling hope appears on the horizon when Pat runs into the fiercely fractured Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence cementing his position as the premiere young actress in Hollywood with this ferocious performance), recently widowed she has her own panoply of nervous hang-ups, having been sacked from her job after sleeping with all her colleagues in a vain attempt to glean some emotional nutrition. As a passing friend of Pat’s wife she has access to his beloved Nikki and agrees to smuggle her a letter should he grant her a favour in return, to partner her at the upcoming ballroom dance championship which she sees as a confidence raising opportunity that might pull her out of her depressing doldrums. As you might expect as the dissociative duo spend time together a strengthening affection grows, but with their various ailments and inappropriate instincts, two conditions buttressed by both souls uncurbed behaviour you’d have to be mental to believe that a lasting relationship is anything but lunatic….
This energetic, urgently clamourous film crucially delivers duplicate doses of those often ignored ingredients of a successful romantic comedy as Silver Linings Playbook is both crushingly amusing in places with a healthy prescription of realistic romance, as the usual genre functions – obstacles placed in the path of the pill crossed lovers, unrequited affection, personal demons and adversaries, familial interference and disapproval, even a final competition for the duo to defeat as a newly wrought partnership (a common trope seen from Dirty Dancing through to the more recent Little Miss Sunshine) – all those cliches that form the infrastructure of the romantic comedy are manipulated and converted afresh, with even the final triumph over adversity given a hilariously sour inversion. The film pivots on the Xanax chemistry of Lawrence and Cooper and both are superb with their effortless takes on some challenging material, just diluting the frenzied disaffection’s with enough wit and acetic chutzpah to remain empathic with a potentially alienated audience (but who hasn’t at some point just wanted to speak their mind and to hell with the social conventions of tact and politeness?), with perhaps the former just eclipsing the later with her feisty frustrations, even standing toe to toe with screen legends such s De Niro in a later confrontation scene which had the audience I saw this with falling out of their seats.
Speaking of the supporting players Russell also appears to have pulled a duplicate coup, coaxing De Niro’s best and most affecting performance in over a decade of amnesiac roles, and by dimishing the distracting antics of Chris Tucker as his presence igniting another genre trope – the primary protagonists African American / Latino / Asian* best friend (*delete as applicable), whilst Scorsese fans will also revel in the supporting part of Paul Herman (Goodfellas, Casino, he Colour Of Money) as Pat Sr’s amiable natured bookie, it’s another stroke of authenticity that alongside casting director has for populating his films with indigenous denizens with a non-fictional history in some rather less salalcious activities.
Russell has an instinctive feel for family dynamics which is evident throughout his work, from the uncomfortable relations of his debut Spanking The Monkey to the aforementioned brawling breakthrough of the award laden The Fighter, with a choppy, filming style that both infuses the drama with a sense of jittery authenticity, as well as signalling the manic musings of both Pat and Tiffany’s fractured lives. The film does however have its emotional peaks and troughs, some of the plot machinations become increasingly convoluted as both leads arcs begin to crest into the final act, the mechanics mutating into the unrealistic and absurd (the infusion of Dr. Patel, Pat’s psychologist in a sports related brawl is just ridiculous) but the films infectious energy papers over these narrative fractures, its tempo powered by a nervous forward momentum that breezes through to its final, predictable yet pleasing conclusion. Oscar nominations for both performances seem another shoo-in, perhaps Russell directing another golden hued turn to accompany Christian Bale’s success back in 2010, and a smart gambler would also be taking evens on the film getting best picture, director and screenplay nods, as one can almost sense the atypical backlash amassing on the horizon like the coalescing grey of distant storm-clouds. For now though fans of a slightly more discombobulating take on modern life will be devoted to this determined dysfunctional drama, as every cloud does indeed does have an argentate shielding.
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