David O. Russell confirms his position as one of America’s best directors with Silver Linings Playbook, a delightfully dysfunctional romantic comedy that’s moving, funny and features just the right amount of crazy love.
Taking full advantage of the second chance which was 2010’s boxing drama The Fighter (his first film after 6years of movie wilderness), Russell firmly shakes off any past controversies (among them well documented on set spats with George Clooney and Lily Tomlin) and delves into his own playbook, picking a smart formula where the equations of story, character, emotion and realism equal a winning movie.
Bradley Cooper stars as Pat, a part-time teacher who just spent 8 months in a mental institution for a violent attack on his wife’s lover. Diagnosed with bi-polar disease, Pat’s recovery to marital reconciliation hits a bump when he meets the equally messed up Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), her husband’s recent death resulting in her own downward spiral.
Dealing with the subject of mental illness can be a tricky process for any filmmaker, with many opting for a bigger is better approach in order to garner a reaction. While Russell doesn’t shy away from the inevitable theatricality that comes with a bi-polar afflicted character, he firmly makes the point that Silver Linings… is not a film about mental illness, but is a strong, heartfelt movie that features characters with mental illness.
Add healthy smatterings of romantic-comedy vices (done O. Russell style) along with a touching story about one hell of a dysfunctional family, and what you have is a film that’s unique in its complexity and raw in its emotions.
A lot of its success is thanks to its excellent cast. Bradley Cooper gives the best performance of his career (thus far) as the tortured Pat, portraying the at times manic existence of a bi-polar sufferer without resorting to over the top acting, rounding the character with a thoughtful, funny and physically demanding turn.
Better yet is Jennifer Lawrence. O. Russell’s women characters have always had a hard edge to them, and the Hunger Games keeps that tradition alive with a scene stealing, smouldering, spunky and fragile portrayal of a mentally and emotionally scarred widow who finds love in a heart that’s as wild as hers.
Then there is Robert De Niro, who plays Pat’s OCD suffering father whose obsession with American football team the Philadelphia Eagles adds a unique element. De Niro hasn’t been this good in years, the legendary actor’s usual bag of tricks, ticks, repeated lines and raw emotional outbursts perfect for this role.
De Niro once famous philosophy is that “the talent is in the choices”, and it’s a head space that Russell has embraced. Two consecutive modern American movie triumphs proves that 6 years of movie exile has done wonders for Russell. As a writer, director and conjurer of fine performances, there might be none better working today.