Thursday, March 28, 2013

Dark Clouds Beautify "Silver Linings"

     The films of director (and often writer) David O. Russell are very hit or miss with me.  I do, however, usually prefer works in which he at least collaborates on the screenplay (Three Kings) to when he merely directs the product of other writers (The Fighter).  Even in the Fighter (which I opine to be his most over-rated movie) he is a great actors' director pulling amazing performances from his cast.
     Silver Linings Playbook may be his finest film to date.  He adapted the screenplay himself from the novel "The Silver Linings Playbook" by Matthew Quick to marvelous effect, crafting characters that are vividly complex and dialogue that is both witty and poignant, often at the same time.  In many ways it is a very traditional romantic comedy, except that we are equally drawn to and frightened by both of the lead characters.
     It is a very well made film.  Both cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi (who also turned in great 2012 work in The Grey) and editors Jay Cassidy and Crispin Struthers (who earned an Oscar nod) turn in great, understated work.  The reason these men's work is so impressive is that the camera angles and cuts were utilized in a way that perfectly highlighted the jobs being done by the actors.  Make no mistake; Silver Linings Playbook is first and foremost an actor's showcase, but it transcends that label in the same way that it transcends being merely a rom-com.  If you have any doubts, look up how many other films have scored an Oscar nomination in EVERY acting category.  Not many.
     I don't know what I can really say about Jennifer Lawrence's Best Actress winning performance that hasn't already been said.  I also don't know how I can praise the actress herself in a way that I haven't already here at The Movie Frog.  Her portrayal of Tiffany is complex, haunted, acerbic, clever, desperate and tough in an unlikely blend of personality traits that completely, 100% WORKS in every frame of the film that she graces.  Unlike Pat, she embraces who she truly is, even the parts that are "sloppy and dirty" and this gives her the ability to help him learn to embrace his own truth in a way that no one else can.  Ms. Lawrence is easily in the top of her class.  She is the youngest actress I know of, save maybe Saoirse Ronan, to have achieved such a polished and mature screen presence.
     I have been watching Bradley Cooper's career pretty closely since his days on TV's Alias, to The Hangover, to now (with several steps in between) and have always thought that he had the potential to do more. Yet, even I am completely blown away by his work in this movie.  As Pat, Mr. Cooper gives a performance that is both gloriously over the top and utterly sincere at the same time.  As an  unmedicated manic-depressive, Pat must volley between such extremes of emotion, yet we are never allowed to lose sympathy for him.  In even his most volatile states, Mr. Cooper always manages to let the viewer see Pat's heart, the heart of a man who is earnestly and desperately trying to be better.  In a VERY competitive year, no one can possibly begrudge this man his first Oscar nod.  I can't wait to see what he does next.
     Robert DeNiro plays Pat, Sr. in the film, and at this point it is just a cliche to talk about how this is his best work in many years; it is though.  Of particular significance is that fact that Pat is Pat, Jr., because Pat the elder is every bit as desperate and quirky as his son, in his own way.  His heart is also just as sincere.  All he really wants is to understand and have a relationship with his son.  The two are very much alike, although neither seems to realize it in the early part of the film.  DeNiro gives a multi-layered performance that rings true even at its most ludicrous points.  I'm not sure that I've ever seen a role in which the actor has been provided with the opportunity to so fully employ his entire bag of tricks (dramatic and comedic) in such a fashion.  I sincerely hope that Hollywood takes note that this living legend has a lot more to offer than just a name that can still draw a little box office, and gives the man a little more to work with than he has often been afforded of late.
     The rest of the ensemble is also fantastic, most notably Jackie Weaver.  The first time she was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar it was for playing the nastiest character in Animal Kingdom, a film not lacking for nasty characters.  This time she plays the most normal member of her household and the center of sanity and sweetness that holds the family together.  I can't say I found her to be QUITE as captivating here as in the former flick, but it always nice to see someone display so much range in their acting.  Chris Tucker gives the best performance of his career as Danny, Pat's friend from the clinic.  In this role Mr. Tucker is able to give all his manic zaniness to us without diminishing how believably either his character or the picture plays as a whole.  Julia Stiles is also delightfully snooty and caustic as Tiffany's sister.
     To sum things up, Silver Linings instantly ranks as one of the great romantic comedies.  What really sets it apart are the characters.  We root for Pat and Tiffany not because they are the cutest, most lovable people on the planet, but because they (like ourselves) are flawed human beings who could see themselves as unlovable.  We cheer when they triumph because ANY sort of victory for them confirms that love might still be possible for any one of us.  After all, it only because they surround dark clouds that Silver Linings brighten the sky as vividly as they do...5 of 5 stars.

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