“Silver Linings Playbook” – 3.5 STARS

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I can’t say I was all that excited to see “Silver Linings Playbook”. But since its release I’ve heard nothing but positive things about it. The reviews have been unanimously great and its popped up on one Top 10 list after another. And then along came awards season. “Silver Linings Playbook” made a huge splash with the Academy nabbing 8 nominations including one in every major category. Now it looks like The Little Engine That Could as it gains more and more momentum heading into Oscar’s big night. So what’s with my reluctance to see this film?

Well let me get this out of the way, “Silver Linings Playbook” is a good film. It’s a sharp romantic comedy that avoids the usual pitfalls associated with the genre today – that is right up until the end. It’s written and directed by David O. Russell which quite honestly was one reason I was in no hurry to see this movie. I am not a big fan of Russell’s abrasive and sometimes crass style of storytelling. But I have to hand it to him, even though we do get some of that here, Russell manages to tell a good story and his personal connection to the material is evident.

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While Russell wasn’t a draw for me, the cast certainly was. I don’t care for the raunchy “Hangover” movies or much else that Bradley Cooper has been in yet I’ve always kind of liked him. Here he gets a chance to really perform and he nails it. He plays Pat, a man who, due to his bipolar disorder, has spent eight months in a sanitarium. We learn that after catching his wife having an affair, Pat flies into a rage and beats the man to a pulp. His court agreement says he must receive treatment hence his stay in a mental hospital. He’s eventually released into the care of his parents with hopes of starting a new life and convincing his wife that he is cured. But there’s one problem, she has a restraining order which doesn’t seem to deter him one bit.

His parents are played by Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver. Talk about perfect casting. Weaver is very good although most of her scenes put her in the background. I wish she had a little more to do. It’s De Niro that really stands out and this is the performance that people have been waiting to see again. His character is honest and grounded. He has some hilarious moments but he also gives us a look at where his son’s disorder may have originated. This was right up De Niro’s alley and some of the film’s best moments are when he’s on screen, particularly when he’s hashing out his complicated relationship with Pat.

But it’s a troubled young woman named Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) who shakes Pat’s life up the most. Since the death of her husband, Tiffany has struggled to keep her life on track. At first the two have no idea how to react to one another. This leads to some really funny moments including conversations about medications and what constitutes a first date. Cooper and Lawrence have a nice chemistry and I was impressed with how well they played off each other. I can’t help but believe that improvisation played a role in their performances because much of their dialogue flows so naturally (especially their more heated discussions). They are two fractured souls and watching them struggle to manage their lives can be both funny and crushing.

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It would be hard to justify criticism of any of these performances. They are that good. But that doesn’t mean this is a flawless movie. There are a few issues and for me they can be traced back to Russell. There is so much that he does right in the movie and I don’t want to downplay that. But I did feel it was a little longwinded early on and then there’s the ending. For most of the film things felt fresh and I thought Russell was plowing new ground. Then things take a conventional and predictable turn. Obviously to keep from spoiling things I have to dance around the details, but I saw the ending coming from a mile away. I kept expecting Russell to steer away from the mainstream course he was on but it never happened.

Now don’t misunderstand me, there’s nothing wrong with these types of endings. But here it did nothing to set the movie apart from the rest of these types of films. And since that seems to be what Russell was going for (and accomplished for most of the picture), it’s a real head-scratching decision. But enough with the negatives. “Silver Linings Playbook” is a fascinating look at mental illness and its effects on relationships, family, and social life. It’s also a master class in acting, showcasing some of the best performances of the year. Obviously I don’t find it as profound as many do and I don’t see it as a Best Picture or Best Director Oscar winner. But it deserves praise for taking a difficult subject and nicely wrapping it in humor and emotion. That’s something many films have tried to do but failed.

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47 thoughts on ““Silver Linings Playbook” – 3.5 STARS

  1. You’re not the only one that was disappointed by a predictable ending. When I first saw the film I didn’t find it predictable but now that a few people have mentioned it, I can see their point. Phenomenal acting though, and a big surprise from DeNiro. Great review.

  2. Nice review. I agree with you that it’s not really a film that’ll win Best Picture or Director, but I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. I had a problem with the ending as well, but the acting was great, particularly on Lawrence’s and De Niro’s part.

    • Thanks! Yep I’m assuming most people didn’t mind the ending considering the load of high praise it’s getting. And like I mentioned, its not a terrible way to end it. But for a film that was bucking all the rom-com trends for most of the film, I was bummed that it embraced them to the letter at the end. Still a very good flick!

  3. Nice review Keith. I thought SLP was fantastic and a real surprise for me. I get you about the ending and it was a little formulaic but I thought the film had earned it and it worked for the story. Also, and this is something I’ve been thinking about lately, can you criticise a film’s story if it’s based on a book? If you change the ending then you risk changing the story completely. There are probably more interesting ways it could have been handled though.

    • I think you can change things unless the author has creative rights and can dictate things. I’ve never read Matthew Quick’s book but I try and judge a film strictly in its merits. But you bring up an interesting point. If this is the ending that the author intended, you run the risk of alienating those fans if you try for something original. Good stuff Terry!

  4. If this movie doesn’t put you in a better mood or at least make you smile one: you are not human. Glad to know you at least liked it, so that’s all that matters. Good review bud.

  5. I didn’t mind the ending, but I have heard a lot of people complain about it, so at least its not just you man. LOL. Meanwhile, I liked it, but it didnt crack my top ten for the year, so I was a little surprised but just how overboard the academy went with it. 😮

    • And I can respect people who really responded to the ending. In fact I found myself wanting…oops, almost went to spoilerville. I guess it’s just hard to put into words, but again there’s nothing terribly wrong with the ending. It’s just that for me it lumped it in with so many other films of this type. And I’m with you, how this thing became all the rage at Oscar time is beyond me.

  6. Great review Keith. Too bad you didn’t love this film but I think your assessment is fair. I personally don’t mind the ending, even though it was predictable.

    As for Bradley Cooper, I never really cared for him but he impressed me here. Though I still think Jennifer Lawrence is the real revelation here, it’s amazing that she’s got the maturity of someone at least 10 yrs older than her age.

    • No I didn’t absolutely love it but I really did like the movie. 2.5 is “Fair” on my scale and this just barely fell below a 4 so its a good ‘un. Just for me it wasn’t the praise-worthy movie that most others see it as. Still a really good watch.

      As for Lawrence, I’ve been a huge fan of hers since “Winter’s Bone”. She is a brilliant young actress and she’s going to be around for a long, long time. My reasoning with Bradley Cooper didn’t make much sense did it? I think I said that I really didn’t care for anything he’s been in but I’ve kinda liked them. How does that work? LOL!

      • Jennifer is just brilliant in everything I’ve seen her in so far, even in supporting roles like in Like Crazy. Haven’t seen Winter’s Bone yet though. Cooper is just too pretty, I dunno, there’s something smug about him that bugs me, same w/ Ryan Gosling & Brad Pitt.

      • Like Crazy Is number one on my Netflix queue. Glad to hear it will be worthwhile. You must check out Winter’s Bone. She was really something and she deserved her Oscar nomination for it. John Hawkes? Creepy, creepy performance.

  7. When i was the trailer I was hooked and hell i didnt know David directed this, i was so shocked i mean he directed The Fighter for god’s sake, i love this film so much, but after The bafta night when riva won best actress, he has the most disgusting expression, after rooting lawrence all awards season, now i lm hoping Riva will win an oscar and be an upset. Anyways love your review, It’s true how suprising robert is and jacki is such a sweetheart!

  8. I still haven’t seen this, but thank you for pointing the finger at Russell. I, too, think his style is a bit… angry? And the filmmaker, personally, is quite the douche bag. Either way, I need to see this before Sunday to make my own picks for the Oscars. Good review, Keith.

  9. At first viewing I was a little disappointed with SLP (probably because I saw it at a film festival early on and had high expectations). BUT, I saw it again a few months after and appreciated it a LOT more. I noticed more subtleties that I missed on first viewing–like Jacki Weavers incredible performance through brief facial expressions, di Nero’s greatness amplified and that Cooper > Lawrence.

    Was the ending predictable? Yes. Did everything fall into place perfectly throughout the movie? Yes. But the topic of mental illness is rarely portrayed accurately on screen, and I think SLP humanized it and made it relatable. Good review, Keith 🙂

    • I certainly give it credit for its portrayal of mental illness. It has a way of mixing in the humor with the reality of it. Like I mentioned, you can tell it’s personal for Russell. But for most of the movie it wasn’t a very neat or tidy story and I appreciated that. That’s what made it different. Then to end it on such a conventional note.

      I don’t want to say much about the ending since some may read this who haven’t seen it, but there’s one particular aspect of it that we’ve seen a million times before . It’s certainly not terrible, but it went a safe and predictable route. I still really liked it though.

  10. They mentioned about 15 minutes into the film how the ending would play out, when Cooper was reading the book 🙂

    I loved it, and this is not my normal type of film. Good write up Keith 😛

    • I’m not just talking about the overall ending. I’m also talking about how Russell plays it out. Again, I don’t want to get too spoiler-ish but it felt like something I’ve seen over and over again.

      • Thats the beauty of films – different thoughts & opinions 🙂

        For me, I wouldn’t of wanted it any other way. And I’m in love with Jennifer Lawrence, in case she reads this 😉

      • I think she’s an avid reader of my site!

        No you’re exactly right and I’ve said it many times. I love that movies touch people in different ways. It makes for great discussion as well. But I do want to say that I did like and appreciate the film. 😉

  11. 3.5? Damn, you are a hard man to please. LOL. I loved this film, as you know. Sorry to hear it didn’t live up to the big opinions you were hearing of it. Nice to hear that you found DeNiro a highlight, though. Great review as always bro.

    • LOL! Thanks bro.

      3.5 is “Very Good” on my scale so its not like I’m slamming it by any means. It’s a good film. But I just don’t see it as this huge step forward for the romantic comedy genre that some people do. I still responded to it and I’m still anxious to see it again. I just feel that Russell undermined a lot of the originality and freshness by having such a pretty packaged ending.

      As for De Niro? WOW! This was a reminder of what a great actor he is. He runs the full range of emotions and never misses a beat. I would love to see him get the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

  12. Yes, I also didn’t care much for the ending… I thought it was a solid movie but for me, not the Oscar contender it has been made out to me. Bradley Cooper was so very great in this; it’s absolutely his best performance to date. He really made me care about the storyline so I hinge much of my like of the film on him.

    • Thank you, thank you, thank you! I’m glad I’m not alone. I really felt the ending undid some of what the rest of the movie accomplished. And I 100% agree, this was Cooper’s strongest performance!

  13. Pingback: OSCAR TIME: Who’ll Win & Who Should Win |

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