Pat Solitano is a man defeated. When we meet Pat (Bradley Cooper), he is fresh off a stint at a mental hospital for beating the shit out of his wife's lover, and because he now has no house, job, or wife, he is forced to move back in with his kind, overbearing mother (Jacki Weaver), and his compulsive gambling father (Robert De Niro). Both parents don’t seem to mind throwing Pat in the attic, so long as he’s well behaved.
And little do they know.
First question: Uhh… really? Answer: You better believe it. It may sound like a silly concept for a movie, but that is precisely what David O. Russell’s masterful dramedy is: sillier than all hell. The entire film is executed with a farcical tone that will either fly or die with the viewer. It’s the kind of movie where the camera is ceaselessly in movement, characters talk over one another, usually answering a question before the question is finished being asked, supporting characters pop up and out randomly – anything for the laugh. Its tone reminded me of Werner Herzog’s batshit crazy Bad Lieutenant in the sense that we shouldn’t believe what’s happening on screen, but because of the conviction of everyone involved, it’s simply impossible not to.
Aside from the minor plot details I’ve revealed, Silver Linings Playbook isn’t too keen on setting an agenda. Shortly into the picture, Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) through a friend and the two kick off what has to be one of the best, most non-traditional romances of contemporary cinema. I’ve made Pat’s afflictions clear, but I’ll leave Tiffany’s a surprise. Let me just say that it is oh so comforting to have a character like Pat issued his unique match in all the best ways.
Bradley Cooper is a guy I’ve rooted for from the beginning, for reasons I can’t really explain. But everytime I was willing to give him an inch, he’d throw back a lame performance in a garbage film. I mention this because Silver Linings Playbook deserves to be his final flip. No more All About Steves, no more Valentines Days, no more Hangovers – let his role as Pat send him to the top tier for an undetermined amount of time. The dude simply nails it.
Opposite of Cooper’s career is Jennifer Lawrence’s, an actress I’ve loved in damn near everything I’ve seen her in. Her Tiffany is so layered in self-loathing and regret that it is at times quite difficult to watch. But make no mistake, this is a 22-year-old firecracker who holds her own and them some, toeing the line with some seriously heavy players and having a fucking ball doing it. I loved her here.
Steadily filling out the cast is Weaver, a recently Oscar nominee for her searing work in Animal Kingdom, who plays Pat’s mother with reserved tenacity, Chris Tucker as Pat’s steadfast friend, Julia Stiles as Tiffany’s desperate housewife of a sister, and Shea Whigham as Pat’s much-better-liked brother. All do great work in their respective roles, but really, folks, the show is about one man.
I’ve written extensively on this blog about the lost powers of Robert De Niro. For my money, the man hasn’t delivered a truly De Niro-worthy performance since Heat, and has more or less vanished into direct-to-DVD cops and robbers purgatory. So, at the risk of sounding hyperbolic, I will say that his angry, remorseful, hilariously off-kilter performance here is worthy of an Oscar. The man’s still got it. You bet your ass.
I go back and forth with David O. Russell. His Three Kings is one of the best films I’ve ever seen, but most of his other movies have faults that I’m unable to look past (i.e. horrible fighting scenes in a movie called The Fighter). No matter, what he has done with Silver Linings Playbook is wholly unique. Expect a fleet of Oscar nominations here and possibly a few wins. It could even make it all the way, and that’d be damn fine. Damn fine indeed. A