Silver Linings Playbook could have been a forgettable piece of syrupy Oscar bait had a hack director or narrow minded studio head got their mitts on in. Hurl Jennifer Anniston and Owen Wilson into the equation and it would have amounted to nothing more than a generic tale of disease and heart-ache with a dance themed sub-plot: the stuff that Sandra Bullock could have once slept walk through for a cheque for ten million. Then thank Christ for David O’ Russell, a director with a track record of introducing fascinating multi-layered characters, here portrayed by a cracking cast, that are equally entertaining to watch as they are intriguing.
O’Russell is well versed in crafting tales of the dysfunctional. The Fighter, I Heart Huckabees and Spanking The Monkey were all skilfully woven studies of damaged individuals portrayed without rose-tinted sentimentality, but despite the level of honesty to his work, Russell’s films don’t shy away from the issues surrounding their characters and Silver Linings Playbook is more than just a worthy contribution to his canon: it is one of his best. Russell has here made a genuinely funny, awkward, yet absorbing film about a misguided individual and his less than stable family.
Bradley Cooper is exceptional as Pat Solitano, a former school teacher fresh from a spat of institutionalised care for nearly bludgeoning his wife’s lover to death. Still wanting to work things out with his ex, Pat is limited by a restraining order and living with his parents, but finds hope in the guise of the morbid Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a neighbour and likewise lost soul with a glint in her eye and a cabinet full of narcotics. The two form a friendship and Tiffany agrees to get in contact with Pat’s ex-wife for him with the intention of mending their relationship if Pat acts as Tiffany’s partner in a dance competition.
On paper it’s the stuff of a thousand forgettable Hollywood dramadies, but fate placed Silver Linings Playbook into the hands of David O’Russell, who has crafted a cracking comedy drama with a biting wit that Bullock under a hack’s guide could have never pulled of. In her place we have Jennifer Lawrence, an actress destined for even greater things following her work in Winter’s Bone and the teen craze Hunger Games. Bradley Cooper also flexes well honed acting chops to prove he is more than just a pretty face, and with great support from Robert De Niro (as Pat’s Dad), here showing flashes of the waning brilliance not seen since his work with Scorsese, the package is tied up nicely, balancing the right amount of quirky pathos with dramatic weight.
The structure fractures slightly in the final act as a sports gambling diverge is crow barred in to guide the story to a satisfying crescendo but it’s an appropriate, fitting finale that in lesser hands would be risible. There is no doubt David O’ Russell brings finesse to the proceedings but the cast are equally deserving of merit. It is a pleasure watching Bradley Cooper bumble his way through social faux pa’s and banter with his OCD father and Jennifer Lawrence is outstanding.
Silver Linings Playbook is a film about relationships and coming to terms with feelings. Well worn subject matters wrung out to cringe worthy effect by countless other fluff productions but here tendered with great care and brought to life with such a refreshing un-sycophantic outlook. It gives hope for the future of rom-com dramadies knowing that source material that is by no means bad, just fitting to a template, can be brought to life in such a way that it is surprising to see work so well.