Friday, November 16, 2012

"Silver Linings Playbook"

 4.5 / 5 

Here we are, trapped in our own little dramas, the lives that happen in our heads, casting the people around us into particular roles: The husband is loving, the wife faithful, the parents dutiful, the girl down the street a bit of a tramp.

They must not break character.  The lives we've crafted depend on it.  So, have some pity for Pat Solitano: The curtain came up one afternoon and the actors weren't quite in their proper places, and for the last eight months he's been in a psychiatric hospital, reeling from the shock.

The way Bradley Cooper plays him in Silver Linings Playbook, Pat's a fundamentally good guy who got sucker-punched by the surprise.  It could happen to any of us, and one of the many beautiful aspects of this astonishingly good, low-key film from director David O. Russell is the way it hints at the idea that, actually, it does -- Pat just happened to let his surprise get the best of him.

Now, he's been collected by his equally astonished mother (Jacki Weaver) and deposited back in his childhood home.  His father, Pat Sr. (Robert de Niro) is completely unaware of just how close to the tree this apple fell, and they all desperately want Pat to get better.

The girl who has been branded a tramp is Tiffany, played with tremulous confidence by Jennifer Lawrence as a young woman with her own convoluted, heartbreaking story.

This is where Silver Linings Playbook could have gotten it all wrong, turned into a cringe-worthy story about two "crazy" people who fall in love.  That's not at all what happens in the script Russell wrote from a novel by Matthew Quick.

In the movie, Pat knows he suffers from bipolar depression and really wants to understand how to deal with it.  Tiffany is coping with monumental, soul-smothering grief.  They fall into each other's lives naturally and hesitantly, and the movie isn't afraid to let us see just how broken these people are -- and then, smartly, to shed not a little bit of doubt on the wholeness of everyone else.  Pat's brother and best friend are hardly living emotionally healthy lives; his father has settled into unemployment with so much reckless abandon that even Pat worries about him.

No one is exactly well and happy, they're just figuring out the best way through -- only Pat maintains a deluded optimism that comes partly from genuinely comprehending how catastrophically awful his life became.  He wants to fix himself.  It leads to a stunning scene in front of a movie theater that does something truly rare in a movie: It gives us an honest moment in which two people, before our eyes, fall in love.

There's a glowing warmth to Silver Linings Playbook and the odd, loopy course it charts for its characters.  It begins in a psychiatric hospital, ends at a dance concert, and along the way it stays true to its honest core.  Huge credit goes to the actors, especially the three leads: Bradley Cooper, who finds an emotional center to Pat that makes him feel real and vital; Jennifer Lawrence, who never once delves into pathos yet conveys anguish and pain; and Robert de Niro, who for the first time in what seems like decades delivers a performance that is warm, magnanimous and winning without caricature.

Silver Linings Playbook in many ways resembles the big-hearted, laugh-tinged dramas of James L. Brooks, and deserves comparison with those movies.  It doesn't try too hard to say too much, only to remind us that we all live in our own heads, we all have our own worst selves, but alongside them are the best ones, too.  Quietly, graciously, slyly, Silver Linings Playbook takes its place among the very best movies of the year.

Viewed at ArcLight Hollywood -- Nov. 16, 2012


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