*Join me as I review all of the 2013 “Best Picture” Academy Award nominees*
David O. Russell has a stellar reputation (I Heart Huckabees withstanding) in his relatively short career of making films. Three Academy Award nominations have established Russell as one of Hollywood’s go-to directors. He’s known for weaving together gritty portrayals of real world problems. In The Fighter it was his direction of Dicky Eklund’s character (Christian Bale) and his drug addiction problem that spoke the clearest and in his latest film – Silver Linings Playbook – it’s his two main characters and their battle with mental illness that speak the loudest.
You see, we often go to movies to get away from real-world problems but it’s those real-world problems that we bury too deep that come back and bite us in the ass. Silver Linings Playbook examines one man’s battle with bi-polar disorder and the re-assembly of his life and the loss and love he makes along the way.
Pat (Bradley Cooper’s best performance, hand’s down) is a young-ish man just released from a mental institute after he flipped out on his wife and her lover after he found them both making love in his house. He’s a man with a short fuse and knack for saying the right things at the wrong times and vice versa. However, it’s not all his fault as Pat is struggling to deal with bi-polar and other anxiety disorders. His release from the mental hospital in Baltimore leads him back to his parent’s house – played brilliantly by Robert DeNiro and Jackie Weaver – in Philadelphia. It’s here where Pat’s life truly re-begins. Pat is a bit delusional about where his life is at at this particular moment in time. His thought process is stuck on getting his wife back and getting her to love him again. Everyone keeps telling Pat that his wife has moved on and that he should do the same, but Pat can’t see it. He goes to therapy and tells his therapist that his wife told him to lose weight and read up on her syllabus (she’s a high school teacher) and maybe she’ll reconsider him. It’s why Pat has been working out in the mental ward and starts running in his parent’s neighborhood, wearing the same sweatsuit and a trashbag to sweat in.
Pat stumbles upon an old friend, Ronnie, and gets invited to dinner with him and his wife Veronica (Julia Stiles). Upon meeting his old friends for dinner, he unknowingly strikes up a friendship with Veronica’s sister – Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). Pat and Tiffany do a steady song and dance – literally – throughout the entire film of teetering on the line of friends/lustful attraction. Pat doesn’t realize that Tiffany is falling for him because he’s too busy trying to figure out how he’s going to get his wife back. No matter what Pat does, and he truly tries to steer his life in the right direction, his mental illness keeps getting in the way. I guess you could say that bi-polar disorder isn’t a very welcome addition to having a meaningful relationship. However, Tiffany has been dealing with with a mental illness or her own – depression. Pat and Tiffany may be the most real relationship I’ve seen portrayed on screen in quite some time. Pat’s obliviousness towards Tiffany gets annoying after a while, but Lawrence is such a great actress that she just knows how to steer Tiffany in the best direction.
The film’s final act is pretty great and the delivery of said act is why David O. Russell is one of Hollywood’s best. Sure, the film loses its footing towards the end of the third act – but I chalk up that up sloppy writing more than anything else. But it’s the sure footing the film finds again once the final act starts that makes Silver Linings Playbook a great movie.
It’s not only the direction and the writing that make Playbook a must see, it’s Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Robert DeNiro’s performances. Cooper has come quite a ways since his Hangover days. He’s now an elite level actor. His Oscar nomination for Best Actor this year is his first but it’s definitely not his last. He’s got no chance of winning the award (say hello to Daniel Day-Lewis and Hugh Jackman) but it’s great to see a relatively young actor become a truly great actor. Jennifer Lawrence has been great ever since she first appeared on screen. Her Winter’s Bone Oscar nomination was just her coming out party – Silver Linings Playbook should be her establishment as perhaps Hollywood’s best. Robert DeNiro is no stranger to awards season but it’s been quite some time since he was nominated. His last nomination was in 1992 (Cape Fear) and his last win came in 1981 (Raging Bull) – so his great performance in this film was a bit of a surprise. Even Jackie Weaver got in on the award season hype by being nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. While I don’t think she deserved the nomination, she was pretty good in her role as the matriarch.
Silver Linings Playbook is one of those films that you just enjoy watching because it’s so roundly great you can’t help but enjoy every aspect. I don’t know if it will the Best Picture award but it’s definitely got a shot.