independent

Monday 21 April 2014

No clouds to blight a silver lining

film of the week

silver linings playbook (15A, general release, 122 minutes)

Director: David O Russell Stars: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver

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No clouds to blight a silver lining

After falling off the radar for much of the 2000s, writer- director David O Russell bounced back in some style in 2010 with his Oscar-winning boxing picture, The Fighter.

He's always been an eclectic filmmaker and, in Silver Linings Playbook, he's chosen to follow it with something very different.

The Fighter was a gritty, working class fight movie based on a true story; this film is an altogether more cerebral and witty drama inspired by a Matthew Quick novel.

Silver Linings Playbook, though, is not without its darker moments, and one could certainly draw analogies between Christian Bale's character in The Fighter and the one played by Bradley Cooper here.

Pat Solitano is a former high school teacher whose bad temper and obsessive nature has definitively ruined his life. When we first meet him, Pat (Cooper) is dodging his meds in a Philadelphia mental institution, and we quickly find out how he got there.

The doctors have decided he's bipolar, a disorder that manifested in the most spectacular fashion. A high-minded romantic, Pat was not best pleased when he came home from work one day to find his beloved wife, Nikki, in the shower with another man. He took it badly, beating the interloper half to death, and has been locked up ever since.

His sainted mother, Dolores (Jacki Weaver), hasn't given up on him and persuades the doctors to let Pat come home with her after eight months of incarceration.

She's taking on quite a bit, because Pat isn't keen on taking his medication, is still dangerously unstable and has a difficult relationship with his dad. Pat Senior (Robert De Niro) is a sports bookie and inveterate gambling man whose love of the Philadelphia Eagles football team has become an all-consuming metaphor for life. Pat Junior, meanwhile, has become manically optimistic, and convinced himself that he'll be reunited with his estranged wife if only he works hard enough.

Pat, as he himself puts it, doesn't "have a filter" when he talks. He tells it like it is and everyone gets it in the neck, but his behaviour is challenged when his best friend Ronnie ( John Ortiz) introduces him to his wife's younger sister.

Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) has problems of her own: her husband was recently killed in a horrific car crash, she's volatile, chippy and has, as Pat rather richly tells her, "poor social skills".

In other words, they're well met, and when Pat finds out that Ronnie and his wife Veronica ( Julia Stiles) still see Nikki regularly, he persuades Tiffany to deliver a love letter. She agrees, but only if he'll train with her to take part in a ballroom dancing contest.

In one sense Silver Linings Playbook could be dismissed as a romantic comedy, but it's so much smarter and more grounded than that description would imply.

Witty, lively and extremely well written, Russell's film does not glibly shirk the tragedy of mental illness, and presents characters that are complex, difficult and contradictory. It does all get a bit schmaltzy in the last half an hour, but it's so nicely put together that you find yourself going with it.

I was familiar with the concept that Cooper was a serious actor who'd somehow been sidetracked into the crass comedy of the Hangover films, but had seen little evidence to back up this theory – until now. He's brilliant as Pat, a soul in torment who moves restlessly from obsession to obsession.

We all know how good Lawrence is: she's positively luminous here, and looks like becoming the Meryl Streep of her generation. Most excitingly of all, however, Silver Linings Playbook presents De Niro with a rare role worthy of his talents.

He's better here than he has been in anything for the guts of 20 years, and is surely in line for an Oscar nomination.

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