Sunday, December 9, 2012
OSCAR WATCH: Silver Linings Playbook
After a well-received premiere at the Toronto Film Festival where it won the People's Choice award, "Silver Linings Playbook" finally hits general audiences, where I hope it will come to be equally lauded by critics and audiences alike. In David O. Russell's latest film, Bradley Cooper plays the bipolar Pat, who is readjusting to normal life after a stint in a mental institution. As he moves back in with his parents, we follow his road to recovery as he attempts to reconcile with his ex-wife while dealing with an equally troubled and flirtatious young woman named Tiffany(played by Jennifer Lawrence). The events that transpire in the film are as crazy as Pat and Tiffany. We see them develop a very complicated relationship, as their romance is impeded by Pat's lingering attachment to his ex-wife. Throw in a dance competition and superstitions about sports (specifically the Philadelphia Eagles) and hilarity ensues.
The movie gets off to a shaky start as we see Pat's first days back at home. We get an early sense of his unstable personality, as he displays some erratic behaviour during his initial re-adjustment to normal life. It quickly becomes apparent that the film is a true comedy, as the jokes come hard and fast. Comedy is about rhythmn and timing though and the manic beginnings of the film made me quite suspect. I found it difficult to process what was happening and it made it hard to get into the film. However, as soon as Tiffany enters the picture, the film tones down its hyperactive energy and slowly but surely finds its groove.
As with "The Fighter", the mood of the environment is an important element to the film. While "The Fighter" captured the intense familial loyalty of Bostonians, "Silver Linings Playbooks" captures the slightly more individualistic pride of Philadelphia people. I'm fairly well acquainted with this society and to me, this film really nails the city's attitude. At first I was disappointed that the ensemble wasn't "gelling", when compared to the brilliant jazzy cohesiveness of the cast in "The Fighter". Somewhere towards the middle though, it dawned on me that the style of this ensemble acting was aptly different from that Boston clan. From my experience, Philadelphia natives carry a more self-absorbed, irreverent sense of humour. As a result, there is an antagonistic way of conversing that may be unappealing to some viewers, but is pretty accurate. In addition to the unique personalities, the film also expresses the city's culture through food, landmarks and most importantly sports (namely their beloved Philadelphia Eagles football team). In fact, this obsession with the Eagles is an integral part of the plot, as it relates to a lot of the social interactions in the film. It creates some hilarious moments for the cast, lead by a genius comedic turn by Bradley Cooper. "Silver Linings Playbook" is really his movie. Despite his pitiful delusions and lack of social graces, he crafts a character that is incredibly endearing. He nails the idiosyncratic humour, which works especially well when he is sparring with Lawrence as his screen partner. Their chemistry is magic, eliciting the most genuine laughs in the constantly funny script. Despite their age difference, the pairing is completely believable as she herself contributes an outstanding performance. On the surface, it seems like a simple "slutty" character. However, she brings to it a sense of depth and an impressive range of emotions. It's easy to see why she has garnered so much praise.
As they work towards the climactic dance competition, the film really grows on you as you become increasingly attached to all the characters. Playing Pat's parents, Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver really add a nice counterbalance to the craziness of the central couple. Weaver's eyes evoke an honest motherly concern, while De Niro reminds us of his talents, digging into a great role as an OCD, superstitious Eagles fanatic. Unfortunately, the film is defiantly lite and doesn't probe the dark side of Pat Sr.'s own imperfections. Likewise with the serious implications of Pat and Tiffany's mental health history. It all leads to a somewhat cliché romcom ending that somewhat lessens the film's thematic resonance. This seems to be the complaint of the film's naysayers but in my opinion, the film is a success. It's an amiable ode to the people and culture of Philadelphia, shining on its performances and excellent comedic dialogue.
As a comedy, "Silver Linings Playbook" will have a slightly tougher road to Oscar glory than its dramatic competitors. It has held on to its festival buzz though and should be one to watch during this awards season. As evidenced by the review, much of the film's attention is targeted at the its lead performances. However, Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver deliver noteworthy supporting performances in their own right. Weaver is unlikely to make it through, as she doesn't have much to work with. De Niro on the other hand, has a meaty performance with that important "Oscar clip". He will certainly get some mentions on the precursor awards circuit, building up to contention for a possible Best Supporting Actor nomination. Meanwhile, Jennifer Lawrence seems to be a lock for a Best Actress nomination but I agree with those who say that it doesn't feel like a winning performance. Cooper is fantastic and even more deserving, but will face a tough challenge to beat out an extraordinarily competitive field of leading men. He is certainly one of the top contenders for a Best Actor nod though. David O. Russell could also pick up double nominations for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, with the latter being more likely. Finally, the film looks to be on the right track for a Best Picture nomination and could be a spoiler for the win. It's likely to stand out among the more "serious" films in the race. The awards season is in full swing, so we'll soon find out the likelihood of this 6-nomination haul. Stay tuned!