Jan 30, 2013

Screwed-ball comedy: Silver Linings Playbook

Like it: Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper burn a fuse together.

W H Chong — Culture Mulcher

W H Chong

Culture Mulcher

Screwball comedy: Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell trying to talk faster and louder than each other. In Silver Linings Playbook the heroine and the hero, and his father, are shrink-bait.

Plot from IMDB: After a stint in a mental institution, former teacher Pat Solitano moves back in with his parents and tries to reconcile with his ex-wife. Things get more challenging when Pat meets Tiffany, a mysterious girl with problems of her own.

Wisely conventional, it’s “only” a matter of how director David O. Russell can keep us off balance but on-side till the finale. As an early signpost to where things will end up, Pat (Bradley Cooper) critiques Hemingway’s ruthlessly tragic Farewell to Arms by throwing it out a (closed) window and ranting about it to his parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver): What’s his problem? Isn’t life hard enough, couldn’t he give them a happy ending!?

Bit intense good-bad guy and ticking sex bomb

Every character is slightly larger than life, an exaggeration short of caricature — not so much melodramatic, but in the way we have been made familiar by TV comedies. As couple trouble Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence have immense charisma: Cooper’s short-fused — bi-polar — Patrick is working seriously hard to stop from unhinging, he looks too intensely at everyone; Lawrence superbly gives “slutty” Tiffany an unstable mixture of self-aware failings and vulnerable independence (even more stellar than her work in Winter’s Bone). Jacki Weaver’s Noo Joisie is so convincing that alongside “sensational” and “wonderful” American reviews have made note that she is an Australian native.

No Big Themes here, Silver Linings Playbook is modestly pitched: a romantic comedy of neuroses played out among the upper working class with no access to greater affairs beyond having a child in the wars or being a dispensable statistic in the economy. The film climaxes around a bet on football and a local dance competition on which ride the future personal happiness of the family — all the nobodies — involved. But, right there, right then, on that night in Philly, could the stakes be any higher?

To note that the movie is replete with corn and sentiment, and is unashamedly manipulative, is not to denigrate its intentions — it cleaves to its chosen genre; that it succeeds is the only justification required. And it clearly pleased the crowd we were in: it had us nervously chortling, including the hard-to-satisfy Constant Gardener. The ancient father-in-law said afterwards that he didn’t have a clue what happened but thought the acting excellent — so a good time was had by all.

Me, I’m itching to see it again, just for Lawrence and Cooper.

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For totally opposing views about the quality of this film listen to  Adam and Josh on Filmspotting #423. They go hammer and tongs.


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4 thoughts on “Screwed-ball comedy: Silver Linings Playbook

  1. Stephen

    Can’t in any way be taken seriously, but a fun night out, and a vehicle for the unstoppable Lawrence phenomenon.

    She’s come a long way, since she had to hack off her dead daddy’s hand, in Winter’s Bone. ScarJo, eat yr heart out.

    And who’d have ever thunk, that Our Jacki Weaver would get to play opposite Robert de Niro?

  2. W H Chong

    Dear Luke,
    You are right about Weaver and the roles for females.

    As for mental issues, or any other issues, Hollywood will always do what it will — as seriously or not as the folk involved. If the strokes were broad — the shrink, the cop etc, then one may as well accuse comedy of being amusing. I don’t think the film “ditched” the problem/s when it was convenient; that it had a happy ending was a given, but I don’t suppose the issues disappeared — just that for the moment the characters and story had arrived at a happy stasis. One might wish a suggestion that the father still has OCD; that Pat’s bipolar medication conitnues — but to me it would have been a bit patronising to drop those hints.

    Even if the film is “based on actual illnesses,” as it were, we’re obviously not watching a realist “message” film — if anything this is more about family dynamics, apart from the central romance. And if a film can — simply — introduce a pairing as interesting as happened with Cooper and Lawrence (neither were first casting choices) then hip hooray for Hollywood. We can leave slavery and goverment, and racial and national revenge, and other Important Themes to Lincoln and Django Unchained and Zero Dark Thirty.

  3. Luke Buckmaster

    One of several issues I have with Silver Linings is how it packages mental illness. In my opinion the greatest sin is to use a subject as serious as this for the purpose of establishing story and character then ditch it when convenient. Sounds like you didn’t feel the film did this, but I certainly did; the characters weren’t suddenly “cured”, I’ll give it that, but one gets the sense their respective issues have more or less disappeared by the end of it, along with the film’s care factor. I also thought it was immensely contrived, some scenes with Bradley Cooper’s psychiatrist borderline ridiculous. It is also a sad state of affairs when Weaver gets nominated for a sideline role like this, in which she barely speaks more than one sentence of dialogue at a time. It’s less about her performance, which is fine, and more about Hollywood as an institution that offers a pathetic number of strong female characters, and often fails to recognise the ones they do (ie Elizabeth Olsen in Martha Marcy May Marlene).

  4. paddy

    Bugger Adam & Josh.
    You’ve got it spot on Chong.
    It really *is* the Lawrence and Cooper show, with some damn fine work from the supporting cast.

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