Cosy though it is, David O Russell's strange and occasionally subversive comedy-drama is a compelling story of damaged romantics.
At a certain point in time, American director David O Russell was one of the more unpredictable and acerbic comedic talents working on the fringe of mainstream Hollywood. Movies like Flirting With Disaster and Three Kings displayed an intelligence and ungainly wit that made their success gratifying, but unlikely.
His previous film, The Fighter, saw O Russell playing it very straight, and though the film worked on its own terms, it seemed he might have left his wild years behind him. Thankfully, Silver Linings Playbook proves that O Russell hasn’t lost the knack of toploading a little subversion into a star-packed studio picture. Sure, it wraps up a little more cosily than the director’s hardcore fans might have liked but, for just over an hour, this is one of the strangest American comedies to emerge in quite some time.
Bradley Cooper stars as Pat, an unflinching optimist recently released from an eight-month stint at a mental institution, the result of a violent streak sparked by catching his wife (Brea Bee) cheating on him. He’s not exactly in the healthiest frame of mind when released, and is determined to get his spouse back despite the restraining order. He also likes to jog while wearing a black garbage bag to increase perspiration. He’s really not well.
But nor is anyone else in the film; from his obsessive-compulsive suburban bookie father (Robert De Niro, more entertaining than he’s been in years) to mysterious girl-down-the-block Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). She too has suffered a breakdown, which makes her perfect for Pat in the eyes of their mutual friends. Though there are laughs to be had, this is a film that presents everyone’s private insanity as a way to celebrate what makes us unique.
O Russell embraces human flaws wholeheartedly. Silver Linings is at its best when its narrative is as unpredictable as its characters, with O Russell organising a series of mental games and manipulations that together operate as a charming screwball comedy for the involuntarily medicated. It all builds towards a conventional happy ending that is something of a cop-out, but at least O Russell veers down enough compelling byways to make the journey feel worthwhile.
Cooper arguably delivers his finest performance to date, dropping all of his movie star swagger to play a severely damaged man with humanity and humour. And Lawrence matches him all the way, proving she can do more than smokily underplay her line readings. De Niro and Chris Tucker (as one of Pat’s institutionalised buddies) are textbook scene-stealing side players, but this is very much the Cooper/Lawrence show.
More than anything else, though, it’s just nice to see O Russell revisit his darkly comic comfort zone. That an echo of his unique voice can still be heard through the fog of this more populist comedy drama is good news indeed, and we hope it allows him to crank out these burnished gems for years to come.
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