Friday, 30 November 2012

Silver Linings Playbook (2012, David O. Russell)

Beginning with a training montage that wouldn't seem out of place in his previous film The Fighter, David O. Russell's latest sees a shift from a physical rejuvenation to a mental one. As we're introduced to Pat (Bradley Cooper) preparing to enter the outside world after a stint in a psychiatric hospital, his sights are set on an unrealistic mission to mend his broken marriage after a past trauma which led to his admittance. As Pat continues to battle himself with a comfortable reintegration into society looking far from likely, it takes a new acquaintance more damaged than himself to help him see past his own problems and to except what life has dealt him.

David O. Russell's films typically harbour characters always on the brink of exploding; highly strung neurotic individuals who blur the line of where sanity ends and aberration begins. It's therefore fitting that such a filmmaker would tackle the issue of mental health, placing it amongst the backdrop of a damaged suburban America where 'normal' behaviour is like gold dust or simply impossible. As Pat moves back into his family home he is supported and loved by his parents (played by a wonderful Jackie Weaver and Robert DeNiro) but the signs of compulsive or aggressive behaviour can be seen in his gambling father, a close friend's marriage, and in a young grieving woman named Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) who's erratic actions dwarf Pat's and could hold the key to his recovery. 

Bradley Cooper does a remarkable turn as Pat, a character who could easily have been an exasperating or perhaps unsympathetic character if done wrong. For the most part his actions are based around the frustratingly hopeless plight to win back his unfaithful wife, the woman responsible for his violent episode that changed his life. We know little about the Pat before incarceration, being left to engage with a blinkered man who cannot see what's good for him. Cooper triumphantly makes for an endearing screen presence throughout and one who instantly has you on his side. Russell also does a wonderful job in representing Pat as a tragically triggered bomb, showing others around him just as fragile as they journey through life's struggle still yet to be triggered as Pat was.

The real revelation here is Jennifer Lawrence, though, whose young grief stricken Tiffany is pure electric throughout. Another testament to the 22 year old actress's commanding talent as she convinces of a broken woman with enough experience to last her a life time. Her performance is note perfect, both wildly funny and raw. Robert DeNiro is also a pleasure to behold; after many rehashed or uninspired roles in recent years his take on Pat's severely OCD suffering father is a delightful one, again marking his adeptness for humour.

As the film reaches towards an end it may be little suprise as to where the story will end up but when it's handles as well as this you'd be pushed hard to complain. With its blossoming romance and dance set piece it'd be easy to say you've seen it before, whether you've seen it done this well is something else entirely. What marks Silver Linings Playbook out is the tenderness it holds for its characters; it neither exploits its central couple's instability thus creating a farce or bogs itself down with shallow sentimentality. Chaplin stated that the best comedy comes with a dose of melancholy, "to truly laugh, you must be able to take your pain, and play with it", he said. There are great moments of humour here, humour which grows out of the characters rather honestly and without great contrivance. There is joy and pain in this picture, a rare 'comedy' with grit and compelling characters at its heart. 

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