Silver Linings Playbook, Or How To Write a Feel Good Film
David O Russell’s signature dissonant conversations have never been more suitable. A patchwork of complete human dysfunction gilded with a sweet sentimentality, Silver Linings Playbook is sharp. Most of the main characters have one mental disorder or another and all clash with each other in stream of consciousness rants or deliberate faux pas. Russell skilfully avoids any caricatures by rationalising erratic behaviour: Bradley Cooper's character, Pat Solatano, largely reacts the way he does because he's a man with a broken-heart, having stumbled upon his wife cheating on him in the shower; Jennifer Lawrence's character, Tiffany, lashes out at the world through sexual promiscuity because her husband died tragically. The supporting characters too are the catalysts for, under the circumstances, rational behaviour as they are constantly manipulating the fallibility of Pat's personality. It becomes an invaluable device as Russell quickly shifts the focus away from the draining detailing of abnormal psychological behaviour to the importance of love, luck and faith.
At times you almost feel guilty for smiling or laughing at the mess that unfolds on-screen, but Russell strikes the perfect tone so as to avoid any humour at the expense of these characters. Solidifying this approach are flawless performances, already much lauded by, well, everyone. Predominantly, the credit should go to De Niro, who's finally pulled himself out of the vicious cycle of films that are entirely beneath him. Instead he's landed a role that's earned him his seventh Oscar nomination and the opportunity to showcase his godlike skill. Also, in a surprisingly noteworthy performance, is Chris Tucker, who hasn't been in a film outside of the Rush Hour series since 1997. His usual talky, wise-cracking fits seamlessly into the overlapping conversations of the Solatano family.
It's hard to pinpoint exactly why the film is as refreshing as it is. The narrative does contain all of the pitfalls and symptoms of a big-budget feel-good film, mainly in its playing up of the idea of destiny and happenstance through Pat's bookie father. These elements don't clash or grate too heavily, as the film constantly finds dysfunction wherever possible, but they do standout in the film's final stages. It's inconsequential really, Russell's earned the shot at some poetic license and uses it to great effect, especially in the few lines that dip guiltily into molten cheese. The underlying moral core of the film centres around the struggle to find meaning and reason for the harsh realities of life. Its in this subtle, but whole-hearted devotion to Pat's motto of 'Excelsior' that effectively grounds the film. Ultimately, Russell asserts, we have the power to manufacture our own fate.
Russell's penchant for existential exposition has been effectively worked into a coherent and cleverly composed plot. Silver Linings Playbook is worth the hype, both technically and otherwise. As with Russell's previous films, it has that distinct feel of naturalistic disharmony, of watching real people placed in unreal situations. And, just like reality, the most effective way of dealing with the conundrum is with humour.