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FILM REVIEW: Silver Linings Playbook

Categories: Movies

Silver Linings Playbook is a film with more sides than a Rubik Cube. Director David O. Russell used to be known as man behind a series of tangy comedies such as Flirting With Disaster, Three Kings and I Heart Huckabees (Ahh Lily Tomlin....come back.) Then Russell wowed everyone with 2010's The Fighter, a hard-nosed look at two boxing brothers starring Mark Wahlberg.

Based on the novel of the same name, Silver Linings Playbook splits the difference between comedy and calamity . Like The Fighter, this is a film rich in regional accents. As Lowell, Massachusetts, gave The Fighter a certain flavour, so here we're in Philadelphia, the land of tailgate parties and cheese steaks.

Silver Linings Jennifer Lawrence plays a widow who sees eye to eye with Bradley Cooper, who is estranged from his wife. (JoJo Whilden/The Weinstein Co./Associated Press)

Bradley Cooper stars as Pat Solitano, a somewhat manic, bipolar married man on parole from a mental institution after a messy incident with his wife's lover. When we first meet Pat, he's having trouble adjusting to normal life and living with his football-crazy father played by Robert De Niro. The only person who seems to "get" Pat is Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a young widow who herself is struggling with depression and self-medicating with generous doses of causal sex.

In some ways Pat and Tiffany are quite similar, both relentless truth talkers, unwilling or unable to filter what comes spilling out of their mouths. With Pat obsessing over getting back together with his estranged wife, Tiffany offers a deal. She'll pass a note along (circumventing the restraining order), in return for Pat's participation in a ballroom dancing competition.

One Flew Over the Cuckcoo's Nest meets Shall We Dance. And yet...for the most part it works.

Let's start with what doesn't. Bradley Cooper. Captain charisma is working damn hard as the jittery Pat and the strain shows. Cooper has an enjoyable easy-going screen presence, but is miscast as the oddball. Russell outfits him in sweatpants and garbage bags, but I can't help but wonder what a Edward Norton or Joseph Gordon Levitt would have done with the role. Jennifer Lawrence, on the other hand, is a firebrand, reeking of regret and raw yearning. She's a great enough actor to find the humanity under the male fantasy of the lost, dirty girl. Plus, there's a comic bite to this character that hints Lawrence has much more to show us.

 Robert De Niro, shown with Jacki Weaver, left, finally gives a performance worth remembering. (JoJo Whilden/The Weinstein Co./Associated Press)

Speaking of a film with multiple facets, for me the real revelation was watching Robert De Niro. It has been a long dark night of the soul for De Niro fans. We've been watching tapes of the Raging Bull, and waiting for something else worth remembering. (Or at least not another Meet the Fockers instalment). Now, the wait is over. What's so amazing about his performance as Pat Sr. is it's like watching various De Niro roles rolled into one.

Pat Sr. is the tough guy, the family patriarch. An obsessive sports fan and bookie. When Pat Jr. comes home we can see this beautiful fragility in his father's approach to him. He knows his son is broken, but he doesn't have the tools to fix him.

(MINOR SPOILER)

There is this amazing moment when Pat Sr. is going on about his beloved football team the Eagles and turns into a blubbering wreck. It's like watching the guy from Goodfellas melt before your eyes, layer by layer. And it's more than just the tears at work. The father's little ticks, his rituals for watching football, suggest the roots of obsession run deep in the Solitanos.

Sure, Silver Lining gets bogged down in mush near the end, but all feel-good movies should feel this smart.

RATING: 4/5
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Tags: Bradley Cooper, David O. Russell, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook

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