December 23, 2012

Silver Linings Playbook (12/23/2012)

Lettergrade: B

The early scenes of Silver Linings Playbook can be characterized by a highly irritating nervous twitchiness that's nearly intolerable to sit through. That's probably how director David O. Russell (The Fighter, Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees) wanted them to feel, though, and indeed they're very effective at getting you into the headspace of Bradley Cooper's Pat, who some months earlier caught his wife showering with another man and flew into a violent rampage followed by a complete mental breakdown.

Newly released from an institution in upstate Pennsylvania, Pat moves back in with his parents and tries to put his life back together through a combination of exercise, treatment and therapy... although he desperately yearns to make some kind of contact with his ex-wife (prohibited by court order). His friends lure him to an unannounced dinner date with Jennifer Lawrence, who is also struggling to get along after her cop husband was killed in the line of duty a year or two earlier while they were in the midst of some martial trouble. Cooper and Lawrence are far too hostile and unstable with eachother to be a couple, but she tells Pat that she actually runs into his ex every now and again, and will pass one of his letters to her (illegally) if he agrees to participate in a dance contest that her husband always refused to do with her.

Sorry… I actually hate reducing the general storyline of a movie like this to a few short sentences that don't really do it justice. The strength of this movie is in the actors' excellent performances and the way in which Russell stages everything rather than what gets you from point A to B. I liked the movie quite a bit, and really appreciated that it very ruthlessly goes against one's expectations and veers into some fairly dark territory at times, but I had some big, big issues with the last third or so.

During the first part of the movie, I wondered how The Weinstein Company could really justify marketing this thing as a romantic comedy. Eventually, I got my answer via a scene that marked the pictures' abrupt turn into fairly standard Hollywood product territory and kinda broke my heart in the process. Pat's dad (played by Robert De Niro, making a rare appearance in a movie that isn't completely terrible) has built up a good amount of gambling debt, you see, and so Jennifer Lawrence for some utterly inexplicable reason convinces his bookie to go "double or nothing" on "the big contest" which just happens to take place in the last part of the movie.

Now that's pretty bad, but what I think is worse is that at the end of the movie, Cooper and Lawrence seem to be completely stable and normal… as if all their struggles with mental health have vanished. So in the end, I guess this is David O. Russell's take on a bullshit Hollywood romantic comedy, but it seems so tragic that a movie which contains some disturbing early scenes detailing what effect fragile mental health can have on a life and family relationships eventually offers "find a pretty girl to take dance classes with" as a solution.

But damn… I hate doing this, too: Bagging on a unique movie that is worth seeing for many reasons, even if it is a little erratic and misshapen, and the end feels like a bit of a cop-out. Suffice to say that in spite of my petty bitchings, I'm glad that I saw it and would happily recommend that you do the same.

I'm not sure I agree with all the Academy Awards nominations it got (apart from the ones for acting and editing), but it's quite intriguing for much of its runtime, and I cannot think of many movies I've seen from 2012 that can say the same.

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