Warm, funny, yet rather predictable, David O. Russell has fashioned another success-in-the-making with Silver Linings Playbook. As the winner of the TIFF People’s Choice Award, SLP was an early Best Picture frontrunner that has since lost some of its steam. Russell (I Heart Huckabees, The Fighter) has long tended towards weepy, inspirational stories that fail to be convincing.
In a year that has expanded the meaning of ambitious goals, Russell has an interesting one: he strives for the screwball comedy of Billy Wilder and attempts to marry it with the seriousness and collaborative resolve of a romance between two people with bipolar tendencies. His new film, starring Bradley Cooper (of Wedding Crashers and The Hangover fame) and Jennifer Lawrence fails on both fronts and nearly tips over the line into melodrama.
Nevertheless, it manages to find a tricky balance between mental illness and love story and comes close to pulling off a see-it-from-a-mile-away, inevitably upbeat ending. Russell’s directorial rhythms are manic and short-fused, and some scenes undoubtedly struggle to deliver the goods, but the script is honed, sincere, and decently adept at milking the entertainment value from the character’s unfortunate situations.
The disappointing surprise is Bradley Cooper’s underwhelming efforts as Pat. Cooper has been getting rave reviews for a “breakout performance,” but is merely effective in the role. Chris Tucker and Jackie Weaver are adequate cast members; the real standouts are Robert De Niro and Jennifer Lawrence. De Niro, who has been unable to give a solid performance in a decade, lands a knockout punch as Pat’s father, finding humor and grace amidst conflict.
Lawrence, easily one of my favourite actresses of the past five years, shows continuing depth and maturity after her staggering, Oscar-nominated work in Winter’s Bone in 2010 and blockbuster success with The Hunger Games earlier this year. Her role is almost as bipolar as Pat’s, and she shines brightly.
Clever, unconventional, and a bit dysfunctional, Silver Linings Playbook lacks the true ingenuity to make it a rom-com classic, but is superficially accessible and is a total crowdpleaser. Sure, the character’s sufferings are sugarcoated, and the sentimental send-off is much too slick for my taste, but Lawrence is remarkable, and it’s one of the most enjoyable and feel-good times you will have at the movies all year.