Review: Silver Linings Playbook


There is no greater conflict in life than the conflict within oneself. We often endure the external conflicts openly, visible for all to see, but what of those demons who wrestle with our better selves day in and day out? Some handle themselves better than others, and then there’s Pat Solitano. In Silver Linings Playbook, director David O. Russell explores the very personal principles that his protagonist lives by, in which case people can work to find good things out of horrible situations. Like Pat, the film walks a line between two extremes, from the traditional character arcs, to the left of field, seemingly improvised moments of candor. Though the film occasionally deviates from the game plan in refreshing fashion, it nevertheless succeeds in allowing its character driven drama to thrive in a conventional narrative.

When Silver Linings Playbook opens, we are introduced to Pat (Bradley Cooper) from behind, a man under the guise of security over his emotions. As the camera spins manically to bring him about face, the veil is revealed to be deceivingly thin. Pat has been through a rough patch, having been confined to a mental institution for eight months after a violent episode involving discovering his wife with another man, in the shower no less. Seemingly refurbished and with a new outlook on life, Pat is determined to win back his wife, who has since put a restraining order on him. Despite his newfound confidence, Pat is entirely unprepared for the emotional and psychological typhoons coming his way. From the pressures of his parents (Robert DeNiro and Jackie Weaver), and the public humiliation he endures, Pat’s only shot at sanity lies in Tiffany, a young woman who may be just as crazy as he is.

Cooper does work here worthy of his Actors Studio pedigree, giving Pat a consistent vitality and unpredictability, especially in scenes where he appears to be very near the edge of losing himself. Lawrence, who is increasingly becoming a young Hollywood force on her own, gives Tiffany a complete three dimensionality, conveying her undoubtable strength in conviction, and her private, occasionally volatile weaknesses. The standout among the cast here must be Robert DeNiro, who has been sleepwalking through his career for the past twenty years until now. As Pat’s father, DeNiro’s performance evokes his youthful vibe and energy from the 1970s and 1980s, and also allows for him to play an ultimately reflective elder who sees his own flaws in his own son. The failings of the father reflected in the son is a common theme in all of storytelling, and it remains the most resonant aspect of Silver Linings Playbook.

The liveliness of all the performances here is due to the offhanded nature of the filmmaking at hand. With his restless, handheld camera, Mr. Russell probes every visual opportunity he can, fostering an improvisational atmosphere that makes Silver Linings Playbook feel like such a live wire. The camera often shoots straight up to the actors at blinding speeds in moments of tension, and then calmly meanders back when they’ve regained their composure. Much of this film features its characters on the edge of the emotional seats, and the visual style certainly plays into that intensity. It must be said that for so much of the drama that dominates the film, there are equally moments of earned humor which lighten the proceedings. Although the nature of Silver Linings Playbook invites for an off the cuff narrative, the film somehow manages the maintain a complete conventionality, so the ultimate resolution is not terribly surprising. Two or three moments (especially a raising of the stakes at the start of the third act) may feel contrived, but the rest of the film feels quite honest, which is remarkable considering the predictable narrative beats. It begs the question, why defer to cliches? The answer, as demonstrated effortlessly in Silver Linings Playbook, is that when executed properly, they simply work.


~ by romancinema on November 24, 2012.

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