Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Silver Linings Playbook

Academy Award Nominations: 8

·         Best Picture
·         Best Director (David O. Russell)
·         Best Actor (Bradley Cooper)
·         Best Supporting Actor (Robert De Niro)
·         Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence)
·         Best Supporting Actress (Jacky Weaver)
·         Best Adapted Screenplay (David O. Russell)
·         Best Film Editing (Jay Cassidy & Crispin Struthers)

Pat has just spent the last eight months in a mental institution in Baltimore after the breakdown of his marriage and subsequent bipolar diagnosis. Having been released into the care of his parents, he becomes determined to get his life back on track by starting on bipolar medication, seeing a therapist, and trying to win back his wife Nikki by reading her teaching syllabus and getting his job as a substitute teacher back at her school. However, his plans to get back on track are derailed by Tiffany, his friend’s sister in law, with whom he begins a strange friendship as they become fascinated with one another. When Tiffany reveals Pat could send letters to Nikki through her and bypass her restraining order against him, she wants something in return: A dance partner for an upcoming competition…
Silver Linings Playbook is the undeniable success story of this year’s award season. Not only has this film attained nominations in all four acting categories, the first film to do so since Reds in 1981, but it’s the first film since Million Dollar Baby in 2004 to achieve nominations in The Big Five (Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Screenplay). It’s a hugely impressive feat, yet you think back on all the films that have come and gone since Million Dollar Baby, surely there was one on there that could/should have done it before now? And now it’s been achieved by what seems to be a bog standard rom-com? There must be something to it. On the face of it, all the major players are there, they just need a good script behind them…. For the most part, it is, but it’s nothing spectacular.

David O. Russell has a knack for writing and directing pure life stories, opening a window into everyday life in an extraordinary situation. He did a fantastic job with The Fighter, producing some great performances from Christian Bale and Melissa Leo and creating an emotive story, so it’s a strange but not completely unjustifiable decision for him to take on board this story of two broken people trying to find their way in the world again. So what makes this more than the bog standard rom-com? Firstly, the cast. Bradley Cooper is the leading man here and delivers his best performance in anything I’ve ever seen him in, he’s given something more than one-dimensional character for once and he runs with it, possibly opening the door for future roles like this. Then there’s his co-lead, Jennifer Lawrence. Her performance in Winter’s Bone a few years ago was stellar, and she’s proven herself to be Hollywood’s next big thing with films like The Hunger Games. She’s good here, albeit flat at times and unemotive, but then that’s part of her character, so one could argue that it’s a better performance that deliberately doesn’t evoke a reaction with audiences.

As for the supporting cast, where do you begin? Robert De Niro is great as Pat’s dad, pulling off mild OCD and a gambling addiction with subtlety, no overacting or ham-fistedness here. Jacki Weaver also delivers a powerful performance as Pat’s mum, generating the most evocative reaction of all the actors on show. Even Chris Tucker is good as Pat’s friend from the mental institution; it’s an all-round great performance from the entire cast. All of this, you have to put down to David O. Russell’s adaptation of the book and creating a solid script from the material he’s given. My only problem is that this doesn’t really do anything spectacular plot wise.

As far as the story goes, there’s nothing spectacular about it. There are a few troubled characters, but it’s nothing life-threatening or truly drama-inducing like those in The Fighter. The characters seem to be more quirky than troubled and that didn’t help my enjoyment of this film. If anything, it seemed as if ‘mental health issues’ was used as a by-word for quirkiness and originality here. Pat’s problems created the drama, and Tiffany’s manifestation of her grief in losing her husband became a parallel for Pat’s problems, even the two issues are incomparable. Even though the two main characters have problems, the rom-com formula remains the same with no real inventive twists or turns which I’d expect from something from Russell. It’s a shame, but then this film isn’t about what happens, it’s more about who it happens to.

Overall, Silver Linings Playbook is unspectacular apart from a host of great performances from its ensemble cast. The plot is nothing special, and the writing and dialogue is OK at best, but Cooper, Lawrence, De Niro and Weaver make this film somewhat memorable. I had expected a little bit more given the number of plaudits it was receiving and given O. Russell’s history of quality filmmaking, but I was mildly disappointed. It’s a good watch, just not great. It’s well directed, but nothing spectacular. In short, Silver Linings Playbook is unfortunately generic, average and relies heavily on its actors to not fade into obscurity.

Rating: ***

Silver Linings Playbook was released on 21st November 2012 and is no longer being shown in cinemas.