Sunday, 2 December 2012

On Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook has a poster festooned with critical praise and at least one actor who is a red hot favourite for an Oscar. 

David O’Russell’s movie slips between catergories and wrestles with the depiction of mental illness in an honest way, while also trying to deliver a meet-cute romantic drama. It shouldn’t work but it does, thanks to good old fashioned star power from Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and, whisper it, Robert Deniro – back on some sort of form.

Cooper plays a former teacher, diagnosed as bi-polar, who has been hospitalised for his condition and is now released into the care of his parents. His superstitious bookie dad is played by DeNiro. Jennifer Lawrence plays a young woman in the neighbourhood whose policeman husband has been killed in the line of duty.

Both characters are damaged, and harming either themselves or the people around them– can they help each other and will they get together?

On the credit side, the two leads are given plenty of scope to deliver warm, complex and interesting characters. It is a breakthrough role for Bradley Cooper, who up until now has been used as a blue-eyed smoothy in the likes of The A-Team and The Hangover series. He shows here he has the acting chops to follow George Clooney into the handsome-lead-turned interesting-club. 

We should caveat his character though; it is a hollywood version of mental illness that is not a million miles away from kooky. 

He speaks the truth all the time, like Jack Nicholson from As Good As it Gets! He goes jogging wearing a bin liner!

Jennifer Lawrence will surely continue her meteoric rise with this. We first saw her just two years ago in the incredibly bleak sort-of Western, Winter’s Bone. The 22 year old is just a magnetic screen presence. Yes, she has an old fashioned Hollywood glamour but she is also a natural. The camera loves her and this is a great role for her. Audiences will fall for her character, who is so vulnerable, yet with a steely determination to turn things around. In a way, this is her movie because she breathes life into a character who is not written with any wild traits or histrionics. Tiffany is just a young girl is a tough spot. It's a down to Earth role in contrast with her action hero Katniss in The Hunger Games.  

And Deniro returns. There is a lot of pleasure in watching his character quietly implode at the antics of his out of control son. He does his acting in that face of his,without (much) of the trademark gurn as well. For much of the early part of the movie, it is almost a comedic turn but, to his credit, Deniro delivers a speech and you understand the pain behind this father-son relationship. Bittersweet and funny, without the usual side order of ham we’re used to from him of late.

On the downside, Silver Linings at times feels indulgent. The free-form jazz type screenplay that allows the actors to breathe, also feels a bit random. Situations feel truthful without always being plausible. People keep walking into rooms they shouldn’t walk into.

If you are the kind of viewer who cannot stand kooky, then this may rub you up the wrong way.

For star power alone though and for actors in rooms giving you a frisson; it’s worth watching.   

Notes: Chris Tucker is in this. Remember him, the screechy one from The Fifth Element and Rush Hour? He's good in this, and he's not annoying for one second of his screen time.

Worth booking a babysitter for: yes, if you can handle kooky.

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