November 21, 2012

Silver Linings Playbook

Well, it ain't Ozzie and Harriet

Grade: A
Director: David O. Russell
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver and Chris Tucker
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 2 hr. 2 min.

A Hollywood romantic-comedy reflected in a fun house mirror, Silver Linings Playbook ends with a guy literally chasing after a girl, but only after the girl spends much of the film literally chasing him down. Such is the symmetry and idiosyncrasy of writer-director David O. Russell’s blessed return to his screwball comedy origins of Spanking the Monkey and Flirting with Disaster after trawling for Oscars with an overrated The Fighter.

After an eight-month stint in a Baltimore mental institution, Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) returns to the Philadelphia home of his eccentric mom Dolores (Jacki Weaver) and dad Jack Sr. (Robert De Niro). Pat, an ex-high school teacher, landed in the loony bin after nearly beating his wife Nikki’s lover to death. Now out of the hospital, Pat embarks on a quixotic quest to win back his bygone spouse, in violation of both common sense and several active restraining orders.

During an otherwise disastrous dinner party with friends, Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a shapely widow whose own bipolar battles prompted promiscuity, losing her job and moving into the guest quarters behind her parents’ house. Tiffany takes an uneven liking to Pat even though he continues to foolhardily pine after Nikki. Pat also struggles to reconcile with his dad, an undiagnosed obsessive-compulsive, gambling addict and long-suffering Eagles fan now launching a misguided second career as a bookmaker. Pat Sr.’s desire to spend time with his son is partly a desire to connect and partly a superstitious belief that Pat’s presence on the family couch brings his beloved “Birds” good luck and Pat Sr. good fortune.

Silver Linings Playbook is a delightful, virtuoso marriage of humor, poignancy, fluid camerawork, lighting and music ranging from The White Stripes to Ella Fitzgerald to Led Zeppelin. There’s a Dylan and Johnny Cash duet of “Girl From The North Country,” along with Frank Sinatra’s plaintive rendition of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” And the film nearly does for Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour” what “Sea of Love” did for Phil Phillips’ 1959 recording.

It’s an eclectic stew that navigates its darker and lighter moments with equal aplomb, including, of all things, an amateur dance competition. But it all works thanks to Russell’s sure hand and a terrific cast, led by awards-worth performances from Lawrence and Cooper, the latter appearing in virtually every scene and managing Russell’s distinctive prose through varying gears of mania. Much is said throughout this verbose film, but the imagery is also revealing: even a simple shot of Pat’s portrait propped against the wall, dismounted from its perch alongside his brother’s, speaks volumes about the dysfunctional Solitano family dynamic.

The film’s tidy ending is incongruous with the rest of its inspired untidiness. Still, while Silver Linings Playbook is a romance, it’s also a movie about the obsessions and anxieties of ordinary peoples, whether over a long lost love or a favorite football team.

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