Following the over-the-moon success of his last effort, the stellar sports/family drama The Fighter, director David O. Russell isn’t willing to sit on his laurels for yet another six year break between films. His latest, Silver Lining Playbook, has arrived in theaters nearly two years after his last effort, and while it may lack the fire fueled performances that made a film like The Fighter the kinetic drama that it was, Playbook is every bit a touching familial drama and has all the heart a collection of celluloid can hold.
Playbook follows the story of a former teacher, Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper, in what will most certainly be his most talked about performance to date), who is released from a mental institution only to be sent to live with his father and mother (played by Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver, respectively). With his eyes set directly on rekindling the marriage he once had, he meets a beautiful yet troubled woman named Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence in her best performance yet), who asks Pat to join her in a dance contest in return for her passing a note on to his estranged wife. A black comedy of sorts, Playbook has enough chuckles to become one of 2012’s biggest crowd pleasers, and has enough emotional depth to make it one of its strongest romances. With a director at his most playful and a collection of performances at their most kinetic, this is easily one of 2012’s greatest films.
With a star-studded cast like the one assembled here, one would imagine that the performances would be the most discussed aspect of the feature. However, with Playbook, director David O. Russell is its biggest star. Taking a step forward with the visual language that we viewed in The Fighter, Russell is at the top of his game here, taking liberties with the aesthetic and style that he places upon this narrative. A relatively simple narrative structurally, Russell (who also wrote the film) never looks down upon his characters, despite his deft ability to bring light into the darkest of situations. Russell’s camera is as fluid as ever, basking in the beauty of the dance between our two leads, both physically and romantically. Be it a beautiful tracking shot through a dance hall, or a rollicking montage of our ‘couple’ learning their much anticipated dance, Russell truly breathes life into a film that could be far too bleak or black in its comedy, if it were in any other hands.
Bradley Cooper gives a career-defining performance to boot. While he’s shown hints of being a truly superb thespian (he was quite solid in the otherwise deplorable 2012 release The Words and has apparently caught the eye of director Derek Cianfrance, who looks to work with the Place Beyond The Pines star in his next film), but this truly brings that concept home. He has such an unhinged energy and yet such a deep sense of remorse and longing, that the melancholy comedy that he allows himself to go through his life feeling is deeply affecting. Finding a truly new fire being lit up under him thanks to Jennifer Lawrence’s Tiffany, the pair’s chemistry is palpable. Lawrence’s performance is deliciously off the wall, pairing perfectly with the equally energetic turn from Cooper. The pair fit the film’s visual energy perfectly, and they jump right off the screen in ways we frankly haven’t seen either of them do. De Niro is great here as Pat’s father, and he and Jacki Weaver’s Dolores have a believable and often heartbreaking connection to their son. Toss in show-stopping turns from Chris Tucker and Anupam Kher, this is as much a performance piece as it is a director’s showcase.
Silver Linings Playbook may very well be a tad too broad in its comedy, often times finding the director and his cast swinging harshly for the emotional and comedic fences. However, this team of all-stars knocks everything out of the park. With director David O. Russell painting a vital portrait of love and longing, the film doesn’t hit on every single beat (there are a few sequences that fall a bit flat), but with a seemingly esoteric narrative to have universal themes and emotional resonance, this is an absolute gem of a black comedy. Toss in a pair of Oscar-worthy performances, and 2012 may have just found its greatest comedy.