Silver Linings Playbook (***½)

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The amount of heart and wit embodied in David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook is one of the tender and surprising films of the year.  Russell, who has brought his quirky comedies to the screen like I Heart Huckabees (2004) seemingly never found his footing in the genre.  Russell has had his fans championing his choices such as Spanking the Monkey (1994), Flirting with Disaster (1996), and especially Three Kings (1999).  In Playbook, you can chalk it up to the source material by Matthew Quick, or the way Russell approaches telling the story but it’s one of the director’s bravest attempts to date.  Despite a love story that feels forced and a bit tedious and predictable, the film is a breath of fresh air to the romantic comedy genre.

Comically whimsical when it needs to be, the film searches and finds an emotional epicenter lying in the brilliance of Bradley Cooper and the rest of the stellar cast.  Silver Linings Playbook tells the story of Pat Solitano Jr. (Cooper), a former teacher that attempts to reconnect after his ex-wife after spending several months in a mental institution.  Living with his parents, Pat attempts to get in shape, focus, and reconcile relationships since his return until he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a young mysterious girl with problems of her own.

As Pat, Cooper shows a dynamic range of comedy and emotion that audiences never knew he had.  It’s a marvelous turn by the actor who has shown glimpses of greatness in The Hangover (2009) and earlier this year in The Words.  While most of the film, Pat operates at a level ten, Cooper never overcooks and oversimplifies Pat’s candor and honesty.  It’s one of the year’s most surprising and delectable turns.

All the kudos are going to the wrong leading player…

Jennifer Lawrence’s approach to the character is different from others.  Tiffany lacks much of the likability factor that Pat or his family and friends do.  Tiffany’s antics, foul-mouthed liners, and over indulgence into Pat’s life can be off-putting to some.  It’s still unclear whether the failure is on Lawrence’s interpretation of the character or the structured laid out by writer/director Russell but the performance is merely satisfactory and doesn’t stand out in a cast where everyone is producing career highs.  I simply don’t get the overwhelming love for the performance.

As Pat Sr., the undiagnosed father who may have some ticks of his own Robert DeNiro, who has shown blips of excellence since his Oscar nomination for Cape Fear (1991), is back in full force; dramatic, sensitive, zealous about the work, and magnetic.  It’s inducing what DeNiro puts out for the audience to view moment after moment.  As the overly loving and beautiful mother Dolores, Jacki Weaver practically spends the entire film on the edge of tears.  Dolores, who is the exact opposite of Weaver’s character Janine in Animal Kingdom (2010), embodies worry and nurturing effortlessly.

In another surprising turn, Chris Tucker, mostly known for eyes and laughs in the Rush Hour films, completely floors me as Danny, the mentally ill friend with his constant yearning to escape.  Tucker shows a maturity we haven’t seen before, even when he’s hilarious.  Julia Stiles as Tiffany’s sister Veronica, Anupam Kher as Dr. Cliff, Pat’s therapist and especially John Ortiz as Ronnie, Veronica’s husband round out what is sure to be this year’s winner of Cast Ensemble at the Screen Actors Guild Awards.

The film also seems to have a more serious and political approach into the medicinal purposes in mental health rehabilitation.  Is it about getting to the root of the issue and attempting to rid it or about drugging you so you don’t have to face it?  A daring question to ask as the comedy casts a shadow over this dramatic look into one man’s approach.

Silver Linings Playbook is a sure-fire hit with a loving sentiment and heartwarming laughs.  In the end, if there’s one hero of this team, Bradley Cooper is M.V.P. hands down and delivers one of the year’s most exciting leading man turns.  A must-see in 2012.

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