Silver Linings Playbook | Film reviews, news & interviews
Silver Linings Playbook
Jennifer Lawrence is a force of nature in David O Russell's jagged, off-kilter charmer
If Winter’s Bone and The Hunger Games had somehow left you in any doubt about the magnetic screen presence of Jennifer Lawrence, prepare to surrender your remaining misgivings. Playing outspoken, emotionally damaged young widow Tiffany, Lawrence is a firecracker, a powder keg, a force of nature. Watching her, you feel simultaneously secure and on edge, as though you’re in safe hands and yet as though anything could happen.
One breathtaking sequence in a diner with Bradley Cooper’s Pat – an “undiagnosed bipolar” ex-teacher with rage issues – begins as gentle deadpan farce and snowballs mesmerisingly into a vicious, painful screaming match, and you won’t be able to take your eyes off Lawrence as she throws herself, full-body, into the chaos.
De Niro gives his first genuine performance in years as Pat’s troubled father
David O Russell’s follow-up to The Fighter takes its far less conventional narrative from Matthew Quick’s novel of the same name. Pat returns home to live with his parents having been committed to a psychiatric institution for eight months, following an incident where he beat the living daylights out of his wife’s lover. His wife – who in Godot-like fashion is discussed constantly but seems unlikely ever to appear – has a restraining order against him, but he’s nonetheless determined to win her back and embarks on a regime of self-improvement that includes jogging, self-reflection and reading every book on her high school English syllabus.
“If you work hard and stay positive, you have a shot at a silver lining,” he intones. If you think this sounds like pat philosophising in the vein of a creepy motivational speaker, you’re not wrong, and this seems to be part of what Russell is exploring with his adapted script. The lifeline Pat’s clinging to is increasingly revealed to be a flimsy thread, but something like salvation arrives instead in the form of Tiffany, who he meets during an excruciating dinner party.
Their first meet-cute, in which they blithely compare notes on psychiatric medication while their hostess looks on in horror, sets the tone for their spiky, uncomfortable, distinctly unromantic romance. He talks about his restraining order; she talks about sleeping with everybody in her office following her husband’s death, and they gradually develop an uneasy bond. Before long, Tiffany offers to act as a go-between with Pat’s wife, if he will be her partner in a local dance contest.
Lawrence is truly too young for the role; she was just 21 during filming and the widowed, world-weary Tiffany is plainly written as nearer 30. The fact that this glaring truth doesn’t matter in the least speaks yet again to just how compelling she is, and it’s tough to conceive of this failing to win her a second Oscar nod. Robert De Niro, meanwhile, gives his first genuine performance in years as Pat’s similarly troubled father; nuanced, sharp, poignant.
And Cooper, who’s been everything from bland to plain bad in the past, walks a fine line in a role that could easily be alienating. With his lack of tact, his delusional drive and occasional terrifying descents into mania, Pat is tough to warm to, and doesn’t even have the benefit of a likable motivation – why, after all, should we root for him to reunite with his adulterous wife? Yet Cooper is both endearing and truthful, raising his game in every moment alongside Lawrence.
It’s difficult to define just what makes Silver Linings Playbook so moving without descending into platitudes or making it sound like “a message movie”. This is a messy, jagged, imperfect beast that occasionally falls flat on its face, but far more frequently takes flight. It embraces the off-kilter, the weird and the square peg in the round hole, and it does so in a way that has nothing to do with that dreaded indie term “kooky”. It’s a film in which people are not okay, but they keep living nevertheless.
It’s a film that says a very mentally unwell man and “a crazy slut with a dead husband” can together grope their way towards something resembling a silver lining, and for that it is one of the year’s most beautiful offerings.
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