Patrick (Bradley Cooper), recently diagnosed with bi-polar is released from a psychiatric hospital eight months after nearly beating a man to death for sleeping with his wife. He arrives home to find that his superstitious father (Robert De Niro) has lost his job and is making money as a bookmaker on American Football games. Patrick is desperate to reconnect with his wife despite their problems and a restraining order and soon falls in with a friend of a friend called Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) who promises to get a letter to Patrick’s wife in exchange for help in a dance competition.
I had no interest in seeing Silver Linings Playbook, especially after my girlfriend saw it and gave a one word review of “meh-umm-yeah”. A friend of mine though said it was excellent and it’s popping up in awards nominations and best of lists so I thought I should check it out. If the film gets anywhere near any major awards for anything other than acting, I will be shocked. The film is average at best but flourishes due to some great acting performances which start at the leads and extend right down to the secondary and tertiary characters.
One of the problems I had with the film is that I rarely if ever cared about the characters. Occasionally I felt sorry for Robert De Niro’s character but that was as far as my compassion went. Even though Jennifer Lawrence was playing a widow in his early twenties, the writing gave me no reason to feel sorry for her or care about how she got on with her dancing. Additionally someone very close to me is bi-polar so I thought that I’d be touched by seeing the disorder on screen. In the end the film seems to suggest that sometimes you’re up, other times you’re down and then you’re better. Although Cooper was very good, I wasn’t really interested in him or his problems. I was never able to get on board with anything that was happening. A further problem I had is that the ending was never in any doubt. There were three things that were riding on a happy ending; a football match, a dance and a relationship but I never for one moment felt as though one was in doubt. Because of this I lost interest and my mind strayed, often to wondering how close Jennifer Lawrence’s figure is to Marilyn Monroe’s. She has an extremely small middle and squidgy bits elsewhere, like what men like.
On a technical level the film is fine and the cinematography is good in places. I enjoyed the jogging scenes and the way Tiffany managed to sneak up on Pat and there were scenes in a dance studio which I enjoyed. The camera seemed to dance around the characters as they themselves danced, always managing to avoid being seen in the large wall length mirror. On one occasion I’m sure I saw a camera man’s foot but otherwise the sequences were very well done. The soundtrack was also quite good and avoided the typical mushy nonsense of a romantic comedy. Led Zeppelin even feature in a pivotal scene. What is and What Should Never Be is a song I don’t recall hearing during a movie before and was grateful for its inclusion. It worked really well during the scene and Bob Dylan, The White Stripes and Eagles of Death Metal also feature in what is a fairly manly sounding soundtrack.
The highlight of the film though is its acting. It would be cruel to Jennifer Lawrence to call this the performance of her short career to date but I think it can be said of Bradley Cooper. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they are incredible but both are very good. Lawrence has moments of extreme madness and Cooper’s up and down personality is generally well handled. Both have an occasional frenetic moment which is where the film is at its best. The conclusion to their story and various problems felt too fairytale for me though. Robert De Niro produces his best performance for several years. As much as I love Bobby D, he has pretty much phoned in his performances for the last few years so it’s nice to see him really go for it and have something he can get his teeth into. Jacki Weaver is also good although her Aussie accent occasionally penetrates her Philly one. Another standout is a toned down Chris Tucker. He is usually an exasperating screen presence but here is quieter and more measured. He gives just enough crazy without going overboard.
Overall Silver Linings Playbook won’t be troubling my best of year list and I have to wonder whether the acting and subject matter is clouding the views of others. The depiction is mental illness is far too glossy and ‘Hollywood’ and the film seems to suggest that problems can be fixed with a dance and a new partner. The script has its moments but features long periods of dull nothingness and is saved by some great performances from a strong and talented cast.