Certain book-to-film adaptations have failed to hit the mark. They either belong to huge franchises aimed for the younger generation or make themselves out as quite…unrelatable (yes, I’m talking about Cosmopolis. Again). So, to make a film of a book whose main character not only has bipolar disorder, but is also obsessed with his estranged wife and becomes involved with a troubled young woman – and to be funny – is quite…something.
Silver Linings Playbook is the latest film by David O. Russell, whose previous films include I ♥ Huckabees (2004) and Academy Award-winning The Fighter (2010). Bradley Cooper plays Pat, a mental patient who is released early to get back into the real world. His wife has filed a restraining order and he can’t stand ‘My Cherie Amour’ by Stevie Wonder. During a friend’s dinner party, he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a young woman who recently lost her husband and her job. They soon develop a difficult friendship of sorts, culminating in a local dance competition. But don’t worry – there’s no Dirty Dancing here.
There’s nothing more appealing to the average filmgoer than personal dysfunction. It is like soaps – in its own weird way, it is comforting to watch something that has characters with bigger problems than you. Russell has adapted the script to highlight the difficulties of the characters – whether it is mental illness, friendship problems or just plain closure – to a bittersweet effect. His sense of direction reflects a chaotic frame of mind, as he seems to get right in the face of his cast, so that you get the full effect of the moment. It starts off as good but in the end, it proves to be a bit too close for comfort.
Even though the one-track mind of his character does grate after a short while, Cooper’s sobering performance as Pat is like Matthew McConaughey’s performance in Killer Joe; from the wide-eyed expressions when talking about his wife to the emotionally torn looks during his therapy sessions show he has more to offer than a bright smile. The chemistry he shares with Lawrence is heartwarming and resonates that their relationship/friendship is not what you would expect from your typical cheesy romantic dramedy. Lawrence plays it cool, showing another bow to her already-wide range of characters. Her troubled yet spiky persona echoes maturity and intelligence, especially as she holds her own against Pat Sr., played by Hollywood legend Robert DeNiro, who just comes off as dithering.
Overall, Russell may have decided to sugar-coat some of the darker aspects of this film but thanks to the fine performances of Cooper and Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook could be the dark horse in 2012-3 Awards season.
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