Saturday, September 22, 2012

Will "Silver Linings Playbook" Build on its TIFF Win?

Left to right: Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper
It wasn't long ago that a movie came onto my radar that could possibly get Oscar Buzz big time. In fact, my previous knowledge to last week was that it was a small film by director David O. Russell that focused on mental disabilities. Sounds very much like the great Flirting with Disaster, but we won't hold that against him. After all, he did just come off of The Fighter, which was a Best Picture nominee and earned acting wins for Melissa Leo and Christian Bale. However, as much as I loved the tale of the Pride of Lowell, I had to question myself. What the hell is Silver Linings Playbook?

The reason that I bring this movie up is because in the course of one week, it went from a movie with what I perceive to be a lackluster, cheesy title, to a film that may be considered for Oscar Buzz. This notably came to my attention upon listening to the Operation Kino podcast's recap of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). They were just as skeptical as me, but when they announced that it had taken the top prize, it had done wonders for the promotional circuit.

It wasn't until I recently saw The Master (review coming soon) that I saw the trailer and finally understood what was going on:

I have nothing against the cast, but it took me until the trailer to figure out what this was going for. On paper, it sounded like the slapstick cousin of The Beaver. Even with the trailer now in my consciousness, I have to grasp the concept that it could get some Oscar Buzz. I mean, how often has it been that a comedy has gotten some recognition at the Oscars? You could say that Bridesmaids and Midnight in Paris did last year, but from the sound of things, this is going for the top honors.

What exactly is this movie? Let us consult the IMdB description:
"After a stint in a mental institution, former teacher Pat Solitano moves back in with his parents and tries to reconcile with his ex-wife. Things get more challenging when Pat meets Tiffany, a mysterious girl with problems of her own."
Sounds like a Lifetime movie, don't it? Also, my faith in a Bradley Cooper vehicle has not been that highly regarded. It doesn't take further looks than to work like The A-Team and The Words to see that while he isn't terrible, his work is more mainstream in terms of appeal. Of course, with Channing Tatum and Matthew McConnaughey turning in surprise roles this year, I wouldn't be surprised if we are going to see Cooper make a decent performance, though preconceived notions make me believe not Oscar worthy.

However, the chance to hear jokes about Hemingway and neurosis has always been subject matter that I've enjoyed. Maybe this will be an apt depiction of mental diffidence. Even with the beautiful up and comer Jennifer Lawrence (who has a nomination for Best Actress in Winter's Bone gives her some additional credibility here), Robert De Niro (Six Oscar nominations and two wins), Jackie Weaver (nominated for Best Actress for Animal Kingdom), Julia Stiles and the return of the reclusive Chris Tucker, this doesn't feel more like a catchall chance to make fun of our problems. 

My hope is that the trailer is one of those marvelous misleads that while it is funny, it gets dark and serious without losing tone entirely. Think of it as this year's Sideways if you will. If anything, it sounds like it will be dealing with drug dependence. If anything, it is a nice change of pace than the advertising for The Sessions, which may be a good movie, but feels like it was invented to pull on your heart strings more than tell a vivid story. However, John Hawkes may save that movie in due time for a Best Actor nomination.

I cannot really figure out what makes this movie quite the Oscar Buzz just yet. At most, I can imagine Russell's The Fighter plays to at least getting him notice. However, I cannot see anyone in this movie with exception to Lawrence getting an Oscar nod, which I mostly say because of how vague the acting categories are at this point. I think that it is also effective that he followed a nice heartfelt drama (albeit sprinkled with character moments of humor) with something that comes across more as a passion project. I will probably be keeping up to date with the buzz around this film, but for now, I am not expecting anything other than a light comedy that reminds us why family is special.

What do you think? Is this possibly the surprise hit of the year? Could it be this year's The Artist (as in: unlikely front runner candidate)?

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