December 03, 2012

MOVIES: Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell, 2012)

Silver Linings Playbook is a strangely unbalanced movie, with its best performance entirely dominating the fim.

Bradley Cooper stars as Pat, who's coming home after eight months in a psychiatric institution, hoping to win back his wife. Given that he was hospitalized for nearly beating her lover to death, this seems unlikely, but a strong grasp on reality isn't really part of Pat's emotional toolbox. He's bipolar, tends to go off his meds, and has problems with impulse control.

About twenty minutes in, Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a young woman with emotional issues of her own, and here is where the movie goes a bit out of whack. The problem is that while the rest of the cast is fine, Lawrence is superb, so much so that the balance of the film is thrown off; what should be a story about two people beginning to find emotional peace with one another becomes a story about a really interesting young woman and the relatively boring people in her life. It's like watching Meryl Streep take the stage with the South Podunk Amateur Theatrical Society.

And it's not as if the people fading in Lawrence's wake are untalented hacks; Pat's parents are played by Robert De Niro, who is more subtle and understated than he's been in years, and Jacki Weaver, who is a warmly supportive presence; and there's sharp supporting work from John Ortiz, Julia Stiles, and Chris Tucker. But once Tiffany enters the movie, she's the only thing you care about. Lawrence is riveting; every gesture, every silent reaction, every line reading feels fresh and right, and communicates about twenty-seven different things at once.

David O. Russell's screenplay (from Matthew Quick's novel) is smart and funny, and less prone than movies of this genre often are to present Pat's and Tiffany's symptoms as charming quirks for our amusement rather than as the serious problems that they are. Definitely worth seeing, and I find it hard to imagine that the holiday movies will bring a better performance than Lawrence's.

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