Saturday, December 1, 2012
I Heart Silver Linings Playbook, Second Viewing.
Movie Review: Silver Linings Playbook
Director: David O. Russell
Reviewed: 1 December 2012
Bradley Cooper proves that he can act, David O. Russell proves that he is a preeminent director of A-list talent, and "Silver Linings Playbook" proves to be an emotional, visceral film of strange power and grace. It is one of the best films of the year.
"Three Kings" was a story of a community of soldiers during Desert Storm with Ice Cube, Spike Jonze, Mark Wahlberg, and George Clooney. "The Fighter" is nothing if not a family story with Mark Wahlberg's drug-addicted brother, smattering of sisters, domineering mother, and equally tough girlfriend. "The Silver Lining Playbook" features multiple scenes that layer in family members, neighbors, friends, police officers, and extended family. Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver play Pat Senior and Dolores. Jennifer Lawrence and Julia Stiles play sisters Tiffany and Veronica; Cooper and Shea Whigham play brothers Pat and Jake. Danny (Chris Tucker, welcome back!) plays a friend Pat meets in a Baltimore institution, and Pat's best friend Ronnie (John Ortiz) who is married to Veronica. There's Pat's psychiatrist Dr. Patel (Anupam Kher) and Pat's local Officer Keogh and a Pat's dad's best friend, a Cowboy fan and a bookie named Randy (Paul Herman). Russell doesn't necessarily introduce anyone in this film; he just layers them in, one on top of the other. Everyone knows everyone. A character that begins the film as possibly being imaginary ends up being incredibly real. A character that I thought was dead magically shows up halfway into the film without explanation. It is a magical, transporting film.
Without giving anything away (since deferred information is one of the strengths of Russell's screenplay of Matthew Quick's novel), Pat is recovering from a violent episode, hopes to reconcile with his wife, and checks out of the hospital with his mom. The film begins with his return to his parents' home, and then it centers the concentric circles surrounding Pat. He literally runs in circles around his neighborhood, trapped in his head and his past, triggered by the world around him, struggling with his mental illness. He meets Tiffany, a recent widow, and they forge an unusual, unconventional connection.
Everyone in this film is interesting. Everyone. Even bit parts. I wanted to see an entire movie with Chris Tucker's character Danny. And Ronnie. And Randy. And the mom.
Russell's use of setting is inspired. The film takes place in a community, a neighborhood where a screaming episode wakes up all the neighbors who stand out on their stoops. Most scenes take place inside homes. The film breathes Philadelphia in with a lived-in quality and few obvious references beyond one scene at Lincoln Financial Field. The film features Halloween trick or treating, eating at the Llanerch Diner, running around the winding roads around Pat and Tiffany's Philadelphia neighborhood, Christmas celebrations, outside of the Eagles game with the tailgaters, at a dance competition happening the same time as an Eagles-Cowboys game on television. Russell is uncovering some deep stuff here, exploring where mental illness ends and rabid fandom begins.
Put another way, isn't being a Philadelphia Eagles fan (or, insert your favorite sports team or television show or website or musician here) just another form of mental illness? Is Pat any different, worse, or exactly the same as the E-A-G-L-E-S-EAGLES! shouting fans outside Lincoln Financial Field eight Sundays a year?
The way sports can be used in lieu of communication in American culture is insightful. Pat Senior wants to spend time with Pat watching the game. Let's watch the game together. Let's have something to talk about. Russell is commenting on our national cultural practices in a way rarely depicted. He's not mocking them but questioning our habits. He's wrestling with the rituals of American life: wearing costumes, decorations, watching games, superstition, gambling, competitions, eating, recovery, rallying.
In short, family.
The performances are spectacular. I'm expecting multiple acting nominations, starting with Cooper and Lawrence who are both deserving. I loved seeing Chris Tucker again. The filmmaking layers in sound: the doorbell, Cooper's rapid-fire no-filter conversation, the spectacle of watching two, three, four characters speaking over each other. Russell's philosophy is to cram a scene full of as many people as possible and have it absolutely work, have it absolutely make sense. Because really, all these people are a part of the story, know each other, care about each, make sense to Pat, and for economy of storytelling, why not have them in the same room?
I think the filmmaking mirrors the feelings of mental illness, and I'm in awe of Russell's powers as a filmmaker with specific cinematography and editing choices. He avoids cliches and mawkishness, cutting deep into characters in pain. Yet, the film is ultimately one of hope and joy, earning its ending, and surprising me in the amount I was moved by it.
A must see film from one of our greatest living directors.
Update: I've seen the film twice now, and it is even more rich and wonderful in a second viewing. Some of the tension dissipates, yet I'm still enthralled by Russell's techniques: swooping cameras, layers upon layers of sounds (telephones ringing, doorbells ringing), and his casting. The film should earn nominations for Cooper, Lawrence, De Niro, and with any luck, Weaving. Best Film, Best Director, and Best Screenplay should also be forthcoming. I'm ordering the soundtrack and preparing to read Matthew Quick's book. I teared up even more in the second viewing than in the first.