Silver Linings Playbook (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

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It's ok to be a little crazy.  Every person I've met that held any sort of interest to me is a bit off their rocker.  They're obsessed with tiny details in videogames, sing while they're going to the bathroom, and in one case has to try and get every dog to chase their tail.  Part of the social contract is that we're all allowed to be a little crazy, otherwise there wouldn't be much left of interest for all of us to communicate about.

The biggest part of the crazy clause in the social contract is that you're not allowed to hurt anyone.  That's the rule that Pat (Bradley Cooper) breaks because of his bipolar diagnosis and it makes him an outcast.  He found his wife cannodling with an older man in the shower and now anytime he listens to Kenny G. he finds himself in a nearly-uncontrollable bloodlust.  It's funny that someone with as long and wimpy a reputation as Kenny G., even with full great saxaphonist marks, could cause someone to fly into a rage but after years of being forced into car trips where that's the only music, I almost understand.

Still, Pat beat the old man badly and broke the contract.  Take that away and there is almost nothing that separates him from his insane family and friends.  The beauty of Silver Linings Playbook is both in the broad view of how the social contract holds so long as we don't hurt anyone, and in the specific case that Pat may be the sanest one amongst all his family and friends.  All people who, despite almost crippling mental hang-ups, love each other so much.

Robert De Niro wakes up from a multi-film slumber and turns in his best work since Raging Bull.

Robert De Niro wakes up from a multi-film slumber and turns in his best work since Raging Bull.

That careful balance of the insane and the empathetic is absolutely perfect in this film.  I've maintained the same tentative balance with the career of writer / director David O. Russell on the whole.  He hinted at this kind of off-hinged comedy early in his career but seemed to lose his way in paper-thin metaphorical comedies and fairly straight-forward biopics.  Here he adapts Matthew Quick's novel of the same name with amazing skill and deep empathy.

This is dialogue you absolutely have to hear.  The trailer will barely give you a taste for the rapid observations and honesty that his screenplay is capable of.  Everyone is obsessed with their pet topic and goes on at length to contort it around their family and friends.  Pat goes on at length about the purpose of Ernest Hemingway's work to his very tired parents and ends on a conclusion I don't share but loved to hear.  His father (Robert De Niro) describes, at length, the position and necessity of every person in the room while he's watching an Eagles game.  Then there's Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who instinctively responds to Pat's direct questioning about her dead husband and starts to stalk him with a barrage of questions all her own.

These people are off their rocker but, and this is the key, they love and care about each other deeply.  Between papa's obsessive-compulsive disorder and son's biploar disorder the mother (the wonderful Jacki Weaver) has a strong twinge of Stockholm Syndrome in her eyes.  His friend Danny (Chris Tucker) keeps trying to escape the institution but is always brought back by the police officer (Dash Mihok) assigned to watch Pat.  Russell handles the police officer to  sidestep away from a cliche that could have sunk a couple of scene but instead elevates them.  He's just as insane as everyone else, but is still a good cop, and protects Pat to make sure he doesn't get into any trouble.  Even Pat's therapist (Anupam Kher), in one hilariously delivered line of dialogue about the Philadelphia Eagle's, hints at his own psychosis.

I love elliptical dialogue, but the direct emotions of Russell's screenplay are refreshing.

I love elliptical dialogue, but the direct emotions of Russell's screenplay are refreshing.

I would have loved for the pinballs to keep smacking off of each other the entire time, just free to live their lives away from the constraints of a plot.  So I cringed just a little bit as Tiffany and Pat's relationship develops as a means for him to get letters to his estranged (and armed with a restraining order) wife I felt disappointment creep in.  Then more details about papa's bookie business threatening to go under and signs of a big dance contest rounded out the plot and the whole thing threatened to go conventional.  But even with a plot forced on these people Russell finds a way to own these scenes and make them feel less like the contraints of a writer and more the inevitability of being crazy in love.

The ensemble that Russell threw together here is so good I was amazed.  The top marks go to Chris Tucker, who hasn't acted in anything other than a Rush Hour film in 10 years.  Here he does the same thing that Adam Sandler did in Punch-Drunk Love, taking the worn pieces of how the public views him and twinging nervously and sadly at what's expected.  Bradley Cooper's performance is the riskiest and he also shows that he can play in the big leagues.  He's so attentive, letting his character's eyes flicker and dart just where they need to be, and never sounding for a second like anything less than a totally honest man who lost control.  Everyone else is absolutely superb.  Robert De Niro finally remembers he's an actor, Jacki Weaver shows how much of a subtle powerhouse she can be after her commanding turn in Animal Kingdom, and Jennifer Lawrence proves she's already one of the greats.

It all comes down to the love these people have for each other.  Even when we meet Pat's younger brother (Shea Whigham), the "sane one", we see his life has been an obsessive pursuit of the kind of perfection that would win his brother's love.  That's what makes this one of the year's best films and a perfect anathema to the horror we've witnessed lately.  We're all a bit crazy, what luck that there are people in the same situation who love us all the same.

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TailThe Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Screenplay written and directed by David O. Russell.
Starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Robert De Niro.

Posted by Andrew

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