SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (David O. Russell, 2012)
In theaters now
Benny & Joon meets Little Miss Sunshine in writer-director David O. Russell’s cute but severely overrated Silver Linings Playbook. Adapted from Matthew Quick’s novel, the film follows the unusual relationship between Patrick Solitano (Bradley Cooper), a bipolar man who has just been released from a mental institution after beating up his wife’s lover, and Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence), a woman trying desperately to get past the untimely death of her husband. They both deal with their situations in very different ways: While Pat refuses to face reality, clinging to the thinnest of hopes that his wife, Nikki (Brea Bee), still loves him and will take him back, Tiffany sleeps with nearly everyone in her office and gets fired, forcing her to move back in with her parents. The interplay between Pat and Tiffany is absolutely gripping as they each battle with inner demons and mental illness. Pat also battles with his father, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro), a casualty of the economic crisis whose serious OCD comes out during Eagles games. (The film is set in Philadelphia.) The first half of Silver Linings Playbook is a fascinating study of mental illness, sensationally performed by Cooper and Lawrence, but the second half goes off in ludicrous, ridiculous directions, with Pat Jr. and Tiffany training for a dance competition and Pat Sr. and his friend Randy (Paul Herman) involved in a silly parlay about dance and football. What had been a distinctly different take on two unique characters becomes a standard, conventional tale that nearly, but not quite, destroys everything that had come before it. Russell, who has has displayed a penchant for taking chances in such previous films as Spanking the Monkey, Flirting with Disaster, Three Kings, and I ♥ Huckabees and was nominated for a Best Director Oscar for The Fighter, here takes the easy way out, settling for a sitcomlike finale when he could have had so much more. Still, Silver Linings Playbook has a lot going for it, even if it does end up satisfied with the lowest common denominator. The film is nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Cooper), Best Actress (Lawrence), Best Supporting Actor (De Niro), Best Supporting Actress (Jacki Weaver as Pat Jr.’s loving mother), Best Film Editing (Jay Cassidy and Crispin Struthers), Best Adapted Screenplay (Russell), and Best Director.