DAVID O Russell’s last film was the rousing crowd-pleaser The Fighter, which proved that it was possible to make a boxing movie where women were so much a part of the story that one of them (the excellent Melissa Leo) would win an Oscar for her performance.
Director: David O Russell
Running time: 122 minutes
* * * *
He tackles a new challenge in Silver Linings Playbook by taking Bradley Cooper and making a movie where you don’t wonder whether Matthew McConaughey turned down his role first.
Cooper has played buff, sharkish, slightly sleazy characters in films like Limitless, The A-Team and The Hangover, and none of these qualities applies to Pat Solitano, who has just emerged from a psychiatric unit after a spectacular bipolar meltdown when he found his wife showering with one of his fellow teachers, and nearly beat Mr Chips to death.
Eight months and a restraining order later, he’s lost everything, forcing him to move back home with his forbearing mum (Jacki Weaver) and his sports superfan amateur bookie dad (Robert De Niro), who has some OCDs of his own and an array of superstitions.
Determined to put himself back together, Pat starts up a fitness regime that includes jogging around the neighbourhood with a binbag over his sweatpants, and starts reading the books on his ex-wife’s teaching syllabus. This doesn’t go so well: Ernest Hemingway’s Farewell To Arms is chucked through a closed window at 4am because he doesn’t like the ending. He also has a problem with Stevie Wonder’s My Cherie Amour, because it was his wedding song and now it makes him psychotic.
On a dinner date, he meets Tiffany, played by Jennifer Lawrence with her hair darkened and a lot of eyeliner that makes her look like a young Juliette Lewis, with only some of the crazy wiped off. They bond over their knowledge of prescription drugs, but Tiffany has issues of her own: since the death of her husband, she’s become a sex addict, and remarkably this makes Pat run away from her. Tiffany doesn’t give up, however, and eventually they strike a deal; she will help circumvent a restraining order and get a message through to his wife if he partners her in a dance competition. This means spending a lot of time together, despite some mutual suspicion, and sets in motion some fights, acts of faith and possibly romantic feelings with a predictable trajectory.
Silver Linings Playbook certainly isn’t a gritty portrait of mental illness. If it was then we might be watching Eddie Marsan and Olivia Colman instead of Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. However it is idiosyncratic enough to feel nuanced and interesting rather than rehearsed and prepackaged. Cooper and Lawrence have a nice, believable chemistry, and by the time they get to the dance competition it’s surprising how tense it is and much you are rooting for them.
Cooper may get all the Oscar talk but, like Ginger Rogers, Lawrence has to do it all too, and backwards. There’s a lot of character exposition dumped on her doorstep in Silver Linings, and I admired the way she manages to wrangle lines like “I’m just the crazy slut with the dead husband” into something personal rather than soapy script-writing. Further down the cast list there are other surprises: Chris Tucker isn’t annoying, while Robert De Niro manages to pitch in with a rare recent performance which doesn’t remind you of a sleepy bear being poked with a stick. «
On general release from Wednesday