Silver Linings Playbook
I’ve liked all of David O Russell’s previous films, to a greater or lesser extent, but about thirty minutes in, I was unsure whether I’d go the distance if this one was going to be nothing but two hours of Bradley Cooper going through a bi-polar meltdown.
Fortunately, the introduction of the also troubled Jennifer Lawrence turns things around, and if the film ultimately ekes out a path towards a very safe, traditional place (all you need is love to remedy your condition!) that’s far preferable to what might have ended up more Requiem for a Dream in pursuing a line of mental torment and aberration. And Russell seems quite unapologetic in turning towards the Sun; so much so that he evens sets the closing act at Christmas.
The director’s more oddball comic predilections are present and correct (see also Flirting with Disaster and I Heart Huckabees) but reined in by a “real world” setting he discovered with The Fighter. He populates it with obsessives (De Niro as Cooper’s OCD father) and likable loonies (Chris Tucker as a hair-obsessed fellow mental patient of Cooper) and mostly walks the line between comedy and drama with assuredness. A few scenes feel artificial (Lawrence’s reeling off of football stats that turns the tables on De Niro, a fight at a football game) but he nails the spinny psychotic episodes and tunnel vision headspaces of his protagonists. I should probably feel he copped out with an easy resolution, except that it becomes absolutely the conclusion you want as the viewer, and the hard work of the early stages of the film goes a considerable way to making it emotionally (if not realistically) earned.
There’s not a whole lot to say about the leads that isn’t plaudits. Cooper conveys his character’s obsessive desire to reclaim a lost love so convincingly that he’s deeply uncomfortable to watch. But it’s Lawrence who is most affecting in a less obviously showy and initially more reactive part. That she’s fifteen years younger than Cooper only becomes relevant when he notes there’s an age gap. De Niro’s received a few plaudits for this, but while he’s solid, he didn’t really wow me. Jackie Weaver is outstanding as the long-suffering wife and mother.
There’s maybe a sense that Russell’s gone consciously more mainstream and less edgy with his last two films, but I suspect the same ethos is at work that gave us Three Kings; he’s always sought to make pictures with popular appeal, just not ones that come out machine-processed. Oh, and every time Cooper’s mantra of “Excelsior” I flashbacked to George Costanza’s “Serenity now!”