Saturday, 9 February 2013

Silver Linings Playbook, dir/scr. David O. Russell, based on The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick, st. Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker

It's no secret that one of the films I constantly bang on about is Vincent Gallo's 1998 directorial debut Buffalo '66. Gallo's film, about an afflicted narcissist, an irritable fun-sponge who, freshly released from state pen, kidnaps Christina Ricci's Layla from a grotty dance glass in order to pass her off to his hellish, football-obssessed parents as his wife, is as exceedingly funny as it is desperately sad, a film that champions and celebrates fucked-up neuroses whilst being able to laugh at their absurdity. Director David O. Russell, whose The Fighter won a slew of accolades in 2010, has made in Silver Linings Playbook something of a companion piece to Gallo's film, broader in scope, forfeiting Buffalo's intricate indie sensibilities, and at times edging towards the mundanity of pedestrian dramedy, but unashamedly feel-good, solidly romantic, and intelligently presented.

Bradley Cooper, the sexiest man alive (according to People Magazine, not me) (although, you know, fairs), plays Pat Solitano, a patient at a psychiatric institute after his bipolar disorder compelled him to brutally attack his cheating wife's lover. Pat moves home with his parents Pat Sr. and Delores (De Niro and Weaver), and an encounter with Tiffany (Lawrence), his best friend Ronnie's wife's sister-in-law, leads to the pair forming a brittle co-operative alliance, as she helps relay messages from Pat to his wife Nikki in return for assisting her in a dance project, a distraction from her own battle with sex addiction following the death of her husband. Cooper's portrayal of the illness shows a marked step away from what might seen to be more conventional, less showy award-pursuing renditions. Indeed De Niro's Pat Sr., with his OCD-distressed rituals and compassionate pleas for him and his son to reconcile often remind one of his portrayal of Leonard Lowe in Penny Marshall's 1990 film Awakenings, though to be fair, that might just be De Niro being De Niro. Pat Jr.'s temperament fluctuates, but he also has trouble censoring himself. Words tumble from his mouth like a tic. Tiffany's troubles are less external than Pat's, chiefly manifesting themselves in Lawrence's ever-present scowl, a glowering gothic mass of self-pity and grief. This all sounds like the makings of a fantastically awful film, but there's tremendous chemistry, not only between the leads, but the ensemble cast together. Pat Sr. has a deliciously narky relationship with his gambling buddy Randy (Paul Herman), Pat Jr. enjoys a solid but economically illustrated relationship with fellow inmate Danny (Tucker, wonderfully restrained), and his best mate Ronnie (John Ortiz) does a great line in Whipped-But-That's-A-Marriage cockle-warming husbandry opposite Julia Styles' Veronica. Under Russell's assured direction Silver Lining's Playbook never spirals off into the kind of maudlin over-affectedness that brings down similarly aspirational romances, though it's unlikely to leave the kind of heavy indent weightier films might impress. A win for Lawrence - already sporting an impressive CV with the likes of Winter's Bone and The Hunger Games - at this year's Oscars would certainly give the Academy a satisfyingly broad demographic of ages to applaud, although I would be keen to see a win for a role more worthy of her considerable talents.