Sneak Peek – Silver Linings Playbook

Good movie. Terrible title.

I went into the screening of Silver Linings Playbook with only the vaguest idea of plot and little idea of the overall tone of the movie. I knew that the movie had lots of positive buzz surrounding it after the festival circuit and that there were already some whispers of a potential nomination for Jennifer Lawrence. But I was going into this movie armed with less information than normal, which is always a weird, but not totally unpleasant, feeling for me. It’s always nice to have the chance to be surprised.

When we first meet Pat (Bradley Cooper), he is sitting in a mental health facility. He’s been mandated by the court to be there for an incident involving his wife eight months prior. He’s now ready to be released and is focused on being positive and getting his life and wife back. He doesn’t want to take his meds, however, and still struggles with anger issues. He is living with his parents (Robert DeNiro and Jacki Weaver) who aren’t quite sure what to do with him. He meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a woman that is also damaged, and the two form an unlikely friendship.

While there are some moments of darkness in the film, there are far more laughs in Silver Linings Playbook than tears. While the movie is often lighthearted, it does not make light of Pat’s mental illness. There are times when you laugh during one of Pat’s episodes, but you are not laughing at him. Rather, the humor comes from the situations or the reactions of his parents. It’s isn’t all comedy either – there are definitely dramatic turns in the film. The tone of the film shifts over time, but the solid performance keep the film anchored throughout. I had thought the film was more of a straight drama, but I appreciated that it mixed things up a bit; if the film was serious all the time, I think it would have been too heavy to enjoy.

I like Bradley Cooper and it was nice to see him in a role where he played a more vulnerable character than I am used to seeing. Pat may be delusional and say totally inappropriate things, but there is also something about him that makes you pull for him and want things to work out for him. Cooper has always gotten more attention for his looks than his acting, but he does a very nice job in this performance. He handles the instability inherent in Pat well and can walk the tightrope between making the character likable one minute and terrible the next. Cooper throws himself into the role and you almost forget that you are watching 2011’s Sexiest Man Alive.

As much as I like Cooper’s performance, Silver Linings Playbook is really Jennifer Lawrence’s movie. Though most people only know her from The Hunger Games franchise, Lawrence is a fantastic actress and I’m glad that she is given the chance to remind people of that (Need more proof – check her out alongside John Hawkes in Winter’s Bone). In her capable hands, the Tiffany character is much more fleshed out. She is a strong woman, but a strong young woman with problems. She challenges Pat when others are afraid to, perhaps because she feels a kinship to another lost soul. Lawrence really is tremendous; my only complaint is that she may be a little too young for the role. She and Cooper have a good chemistry, however, which manages to overcome the 20 year age gap between actors.

I love DeNiro, though his film choices in his later years often leave me scratching my head (Righteous Kill was borderline unwatchable). But I quite liked him in Silver Linings Playbook. Pat Sr. has his own issues as well, and DeNiro does a nice job in playing the uncertainty that comes with a father trying to deal with his erratic son. It’s a much more natural performance than I have seen from DeNiro in a while and is a reminder of what he is truly capable of as an actor. Jacki Weaver is also very good as Pat’s frazzled mother who is trying to hold it all together.

Silver Linings Playbook isn’t perfect; the film becomes fairly predictable in the second half and the switches in tone aren’t always seamless. However, despite the fact that I knew what was coming I still found myself invested in the film and a small part of me was slightly concerned that the expected outcome would not develop. That’s a credit to the characters created – they were able to pull me in and make me care, even as the film became more formulaic.

Some other thoughts:

  • We have a Chris Tucker sighting! He’s kind of disappeared since the Rush Hour franchise ended in 2007. I’ve never been a huge fan, though he is fun in The Fifth Element (a movie that I love for some reason). He’s much more toned down in Silver Linings Playbook as a friend of Danny’s from the mental health facility.
  • I actually think that Bradley Cooper is more attractive in this movie than in many of his previous roles, and I’ve decided it is the absence of his pretty boy hair. Plus history has shown that I’m a sucker for a guy in a football jersey.
  • Speaking of football – I’ve heard a few people refer to this as the Bradley Cooper football movie. While football does play a role in the film, it is not central to a lot of what’s going on. Just want to warn people that this isn’t Any Given Sunday or Big Fan.
  • It took me a little while to place the actor that plays Pat’s brother, but I finally figured it out – it’s Shea Whigham, who I know as Eli Thompson on Boardwalk Empire. I recognized his voice immediately, but not seeing him in the attire of the 1920s threw me off.
  • Ugh – that ridiculous title. Silver Linings Playbook comes from Pat’s determination to find the good in things. They should have called it something else.
  • There are several references in the film to Pat having lost weight and I noticed that Cooper did look skinnier than usual. I’m curious if he lost weight for the part.
  • In case you are wondering, Bradley Cooper isn’t a bad dancer.

I’m on a very good streak of movies lately; Silver Linings Playbook continues that trend (as does the movie I am reviewing tomorrow). The film is a little quirky and gets excellent performances from the cast. I think it may be too early to be discussing Oscar buzz for any of the actors, but it was an enjoyable film that was much funnier than I anticipated it would be going in. Cooper and Lawrence make this film, with a little help from Robert DeNiro.

Silver Linings Playbook opens nationwide on Wednesday November 21st.