When I was in Cannes this past summer, I was fortunate enough to see a rough cut of “Silver Linings Playbook.” Although had you told me it was a final cut, I would have believed it. The film felt totally complete and in no need of further tweaking. In fact, I almost ran my review of that version when the film premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, hoping people assumed I was there and saw the theatrical cut.
Now that I’ve seen the movie for a second time, I’m definitely glad I did not run a review on the rough cut. The film improved by leaps and bounds over the four months in which David O. Russell and company worked out the kinks in the film, and most of the things I would have griped about in my review of the rough cut disappeared.
On the surface, everything is relatively the same: the story still plays out in the same way, the rhythm of the film kept in tact, among other things. But I noticed a much more complex visual scheme, one that made “Silver Linings Playbook” feel like a David O. Russell film, not your run-of-the-mill romantic comedy. Rather than the standard back-and-forth, he’s-talking-now-she’s-talking editing, Russell opts to go deeper and use the camera to probe his characters psychologically. Rather than merely capturing the plot like the rough cut, Russell ultimately found ways to suggest levels of depth extending far below a single shot.
Russell is able to make the performances shine by keying off the wacky family dynamics that made “The Fighter” such a hoot (and also harkening back to the zaniness “Flirting with Disaster” – for fans of Russell’s early work). You wonder how these relationships can possibly function in any way other than what Jim Morrison called “mutual wierdness,” or love. He draws us in with characters who wear their flaws on their sleeves yet keeps us engaged by continuing to show how they motivate the character at their core.
With the focus shifting towards the characters and away from the plot, which is entertaining but decidedly cursory on mental illness and other issues it raises, “Silver Linings Playbook” is a joy to watch (and will be to rewatch as well) because of the way we find ourselves in the characters. Russell takes us through the fire with Bradley Cooper’s Pat Solitano in the first act, really managing to get us tense and high-strung along with the rest of his family as he attempts to reenter society after an eight-month stint in a psychiatric hospital.
While Pat is in a bit of a tailspin, we are also introduced to Jennifer Lawrence’s Tiffany, a widow who refuses to bear her pain in humble silence. She opts instead to make everyone painfully aware of her every feeling and thought, facing life with a blunt honesty that jolts Pat’s insistence on positive thinking. They butt heads at a dinner party with each’s unique stubbornness leading to low points for all.
But since rock bottom is the starting point for Pat and Tiffany, we root for them as they attempt to put their worst days past them and make each other better. Now that Russell’s editing facilitates emotional rapport, the two feel like parts of ourselves that we usually try to pretend don’t exist. But on screen and embodied by Cooper and Lawrence, we embrace them and allow them to illuminate the crazy that lives within us all.
Despite their 15 year age difference, the chemistry between the two leads is absolutely pitch-perfect. It starts out with an appropriate skepticism, not utter repudiation as current genre convention dictates, and then gradually progresses into understanding and feeling. Cooper and Lawrence expose such wonderful truths in each other and show such humor and heart through their interplay.
Cooper is surprising as he marches firmly and confidently into commanding leading man territory. As Pat, his performance is slowly revelatory of great thought and depth, although it often manifests itself as ridiculously misplaced puppy love for his unfaithful ex-wife. His funny bone, which we all knew was there from “The Hangover,” works for him here, but his strongest asset in “Silver Linings Playbook” is an almost theatrical sense of dramatic timing. He knows when to tone down his performance and let his lack of manic action speak loudly.
Lawrence doesn’t really shut up, but in some ways, that just makes her performance that much better. You can’t get enough of her when she’s on screen spinning Russell’s words into insightful gold. In the hands of a lesser actress, Tiffany’s line about how there will always be a part of her that is sloppy and messy would lead you to dismiss her as a harlot. But Lawrence not only prevents that outcome, she makes her character more real, more like us.
Perhaps its her very lack of traditional discipline, letting her mouth and emotions run wild, that draws us all the closer to Tiffany. She’s brash, brazen, yet totally believable. Whether she’s afraid or assertive, there’s some part of this character where Lawrence reflects a part of you. The question she, through Tiffany, asks is whether you are comfortable enough to identify and associate with that very aspect.
Along with an ensemble cast of kooky characters, including Robert DeNiro as Pat’s obsessive-compulsive father in a very post-modernly introspective role, Cooper and Lawrence bring “Silver Linings Playbook” home for genre gold and pure moviegoing delight. It may not pack the punch of “The Fighter,” but taking in mind the different tones and audiences, I think this will be the one I always stop to watch on television while I’m channel surfing on the weekends.