Movie Review: Silver Linings Playbook [2012]

Silver Linings Playbook [2012]

Silver Linings Playbook [2012]
Director: David O. Russell
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Romance
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver and Chris Tucker
Running Time: 122 minutes

Silver Linings Playbook is a romantic comedy by definition, but it is presented in a way that most in the genre are not.

Bradley Cooper (in a surprisingly subdued performance) stars as Pat Solitano, a former high school teacher diagnosed with bipolar disorder. After an eight month stay in a mental hospital, Pat is released into the care of his parents, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) and Dolores (Jacki Weaver). The only thing on Pat’s mind is a desire to reconcile his failed marriage with his ex-wife, Nikki (Brea Bee), who now has a restraining order against him due to a previous violent outburst.

Silver Linings Playbook [2012]

While having dinner at a friend’s house, Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a young woman who is going through a very rough patch as well (her husband just passed away in Iraq). They begin a peculiar relationship in which Pat attempts to communicate to Nikki through Tiffany. She agrees to help him if he will enter a dance competition with her, something she never got to do with her late husband. This shaky agreement works as a sort of therapy for both of them, as both seem to come to grips with their respective mental illnesses at the same time.

Familiar conventions of the romantic comedy genre eventually arise, particularly in the film’s final act, but the journey to this point is anything but conventional. Director David O. Russell’s inclusion of mental illness as an integral part of the storyline is a bit of a ballsy move, but he manages to portray both characters and their traits in a sensitive light.

Silver Linings Playbook [2012]

The chemistry between Cooper and Lawrence is electric, with both turning in what may very well be the best performances of their careers. It’s shocking that Lawrence is just 22 years old — she has the presence of a seasoned veteran in this. Perhaps most exciting is seeing Robert De Niro return to relevance with one of his greatest roles in years. His take as the OCD diehard Eagles fan shows glimpses of just how Pat Jr. began struggling with his own mental issues. Chris Tucker even has a small role that is worthy of a mention, largely because he is not as obnoxious as usual.

Silver Linings Playbook deserves credit for bringing something new to a tired genre, and even though it falls back on familiar tropes, it’s still a strong effort with a likable set of characters.

8/10

The Fighter [2010]

The Fighter [2010]

The Fighter [2010]
Directors: David O. Russell
Genre: Biography/Drama/Sport
Language: English
Country: USA

In a year where real life stories adapted to films reign supreme, The Fighter belongs near the top of the list. Based on the true story of boxer “Irish” Micky Ward, director David O. Russell’s latest work is so much more than just a boxing movie. Micky (Mark Wahlberg) is a once-promising, but currently struggling, boxer who is frequently stuck in the shadows of his older brother and local legend, Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale). Dicky’s claim to fame is that he once knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard, and although his career was quickly derailed due to crack abuse (a problem he continues with throughout the movie), he is still respected in his hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts. In essence, this movie is just as much about Dicky as it is Micky, and in fact the entire family is front and center throughout this. The matriarch of the family, Alice (Melissa Leo), is proud of her boys, and she acts as their manager as well. She has a barrage of daughters who will back her up no matter what she does, for better or for worse. When Micky gets a new girlfriend (Amy Adams) who is not afraid to infiltrate this hardheaded family, all hell breaks loose and this shakes the very foundation this clan has always been based on.

So, although some people might be quick to dismiss this as just another boxing movie, it is clearly much more than that. There is a strong overlying portrait of just how important family is, especially in tight-knit groups such as the Wards. Although Micky starts to believe he can succeed with different management and training, he has a hard time leaving his family behind. The Fighter excels at showing the hardships of finally leaving the nest.

Perhaps what I loved the most about The Fighter was its strong attention to detail. I felt like I was right there in the middle of Lowell in the 1990’s, and although at times it wasn’t comfortable, Russell really nailed the life of the lower class, especially the crack house that Dicky often frequented. I also loved how when there was actual boxing, it didn’t feel like your standard Hollywood bullshit. Instead, the old school HBO-style cameras were used to make it look like these were real pay-per-view bouts, and that is just really cool.

Of course, much of the hype and praise about The Fighter is because of its acting, and yeah, the movie wouldn’t be half as good without its stellar cast. Christian Bale continues to impress with his wide variety of roles, this time shedding a bunch of weight in order to play the crackhead boxer, in a respectfully energetic performance. Mark Wahlberg is solid in the lead role, never really taking the next step but still getting the job done admirably. The two main women in the movie, Adams and Leo, are fiery gals who don’t take shit from anyone. Both deliver outstanding performances, especially Adams who stepped out from her shell and played a much “dirtier” character than she has done in the past. All but Wahlberg received Oscar nominations for their work in this film, and all are certainly deserved.

If I were to have one problem with the movie, it would be its questionable soundtrack. While Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and others were effectively played, The Heavy’s “How Do You Like Me Now” was used too often for its own good. Even still, that is a minor fault in an otherwise great film.

I had heard good things about The Fighter beforehand, but I can safely say that the movie exceeded any expectations I had for it. With an outstanding cast, excellent attention to detail, and some intense fight scenes, I have no reservations about putting this up there amongst the greatest sports movies. Highly recommended.

8.5/10