The Watchers

The Watchers

Friday, 25 January 2013

Review: Silver Linings Playbook (UK Cert 15)

Adapted from the 2008 novel by Matthew Quick, David O. Russell's follow-up to The Fighter is a combination of romance, comedy and drama which won the People's Choice Award at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival and has been a major presence during this year's awards season. Not an easy watch in places, due to subject matter, but it's full of heart and warmth.

After eight months in a Baltimore mental health institution, Pat Solitano Jr (Bradley Cooper) is released to the care of his parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver) in Philadelphia. Pat's recent diagnosis of bipolar disorder following a violent attack on his wife's lover led to his admission. Now he's out and determined to get better so he can get back with his wife. As he tries to find the silver linings, he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a girl with troubles of her own. Soon a pact is made; Tiffany will deliver a letter to Pat's wife if Pat will take part in a dance competition with her.

Silver Linings Playbook is the first film in over thirty years to garner an Oscar nomination in each of the four acting categories and that's certainly no fluke. All four main actors- Cooper, Lawrence, de Niro, and Weaver- give naturalistic performances. It's very easy sometimes, especially when dealing with issues like mental illness, for the performances to be very showy, for the actor to almost play up to the cameras as they emote. I didn't feel like there was any of that here.

Cooper shows that he can do more than be a pretty face as his determination to get his wife back and his burgeoning friendship with Tiffany show some real acting chops. Lawrence's performance is mesmerising as the unapologetic but equally as messed-up Tiffany; bizarrely, there is an age difference of nearly fifteen years between Cooper and Lawrence but such is the maturity of her performance that it is not noticeable. De Niro is great as the Philadelphia Eagles obsessed Pat Sr, full of supersititons and borderline OCD whilst Weaver is a warm and engaging presence as the rock who holds things together.

There are other great performances by John Ortiz as Pat Jr's friend Ronnie, Anupam Kher as Pat Jr's counsellor Dr Patel and- I'm surprised to even write these words- a lovely turn by Chris Tucker as Danny, Pat's friend from Baltimore. Usually, Tucker has me gritting my teeth as soon as he opens his mouth but here he's more than bearable and actually kind of likeable. 

The portrayal of mental illness is sensitively done but unflinching in their power; they're certainly not sugar-coated or sanitised. Pat Jr's manic episodes are played straight down the line; they're not trivialised or played for laughs which is to the film's credit. Some scenes are difficult to watch, most notably when Pat Jr is looking for his wedding video. The script is decent (Russell adapting Quick's novel himself) with moments of humour subtly weaved in. My only bugbear is the occasional lacklustre direction which lets things down.

You don't need to be a fan of American football to enjoy the film, nor do you need any passion for dancing. Ultimately, it's a touching and occasionally funny film about two damaged souls finding a connection and it's well worth two hours of your time.

Rating: 4 out of 5


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