Silver Linings Playbook blows its golden performances

Regardless of what one might make of his films, there’s no denying that David O Russell knows how to bring a brilliantly eclectic cast together.  His follow-up to the critically acclaimed The Fighter is no exception, as Silver Linings Playbook brims with A-list Hollywood talent (and Chris Tucker).  A loose adaption of Matthew Quick’s 2008 debut novel of almost the same name, Russell sets the stage for his all-star players to go crazy upon, and, indeed, crazy is the name of the game here.

I’ll have what he’s having.

Bradley Cooper is Pat, he of the silver linings outlook that has helped him pull his post-psychotic-breakdown life back together.  Fresh out of the psychiatric hospital following a lengthy stay, Pat is taken in by his parents, as brought to life by the formidable duo of Jacki Weaver and Robert De Niro.  Though not as unstable as his son, De Niro’s Pat Sr is a rather bonkers, obsessive compulsive bookie, whose behaviour implicitly poses the question of whether or not superstition is a minor form of mental illness.  It’s not just the boys who get to bring the batty, though, as soon Jennifer Lawrence enters the scene as a severely bereaved young widow looking to fill her void, so to speak.  It’s tricky ground that Russell’s treading upon here, as serious portrayals of mental illness tend to be played for laughs.  When Tucker’s chronic escapee keeps popping up, it’s certainly amusing, but it’s difficult to not be tinged with a touch of sadness.  This is more so the case when Pat struggles to readjust to life in a world far less familiar to him following eight months of treatment.  The idea that someone might flip out over Hemingway’s A Call to Arms at four in the morning plays to the idea that the film is merely entertainment.  However, if the intent of Silver Linings Playbook is to elicit an emotional response to the suffering of these characters it asks viewers to care about, then it’s hardly fair to frame how they behave as comical.  Lacking an intelligent balance of heart and humour, Silver Linings Playbook teeters in tone for the first half before it squarely lands in predictable rom-com territory.

What makes Silver Linings Playbook worth seeing can be simply stated: the performances.  Lawrence elevates the role of Tiffany far beyond the words of the script.  The complexity and ferocity she infuses into the character is nothing less than masterful.  A tragic figure who will accept no shoulder to cry on, Tiffany is constantly compelling and clever.  The intensity that Lawrence can convey with one steely glare makes all the difference and her commitment to the part appears both apparent and effortless.  There will be stiff competition comes awards season, but Lawrence stakes her claim as a strong contender with her work here.  That’s not to overlook Cooper, though.  As an optimistically volatile man hoping to piece his life back together, his charisma and tenderness keep Pat both relatable and likable as the protagonist.  Pat’s struggles with his illness feel genuine, which is a credit to Cooper, but, again, they make it difficult to have an enjoyable laugh at his antics.  In a supporting role, De Niro comes up strong.  Building off the chemistry he forged with Cooper in Limitless, De Niro is as much a treat in Silver Linings Playbook as he has been in any film for years.  That this is the same De Niro who appeared in the dreadful New Year’s Eve just under a year ago seems a mind-boggling reality.

So it’s a shame that Russell’s screenplay isn’t up to the same level of quality exhibited by his cast.  Once Silver Linings Playbook finally settles into a comfortable method of storytelling, the plot takes the most predictable of turns.  The central twist is telegraphed in an audaciously blatant way that, along with questioning the intelligence of the audience, renders the final act, though visually pleasing, entirely anticlimactic.

On the whole, Silver Linings Playbook is something of a disappointment. The fact that it is loaded with first-rate performances makes its shortcomings at script level all the more frustrating.  Without a firm position to frame the topic of mental illness that is prevalent throughout the film, Silver Linings Playbook ends up going for cheap laughs without attempting to say anything of real value.  Seemingly happy to settle for transforming into just another kooky rom-com, the whole affair feels like a missed opportunity.  Still, Lawrence, Cooper and De Niro provide true silver linings to this rain cloud of a dramedy.  7/10

Silver Linings Playbook is in UK cinemas 21 November


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