Thursday, January 3, 2013

Review: "Silver Linings Playbook" Isn't Quite All There

Left to right: Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro
One of the great surprises of 2010 was watching director David O. Russell's boxer family drama The Fighter, which featured a captivating look into drug addiction and how sports can unite a family. In many ways, this feels like the overview of Russell's follow-up Silver Linings Playbook, which attempts to turn a story about mental illness into a sports-craving romantic comedy that somehow earned Oscar Buzz along the way. Is the film a worthy follow-up, and more-so, is it one deserving of a few Oscar nominations?

Right off the bat, it is impressive that this film has gotten so much traction. True, Russell's previous film is a personal favorite that would make his follow-up highly anticipated. However, when you throw in Bradley Cooper, things get a little messy. However, if someone is capable of exploring family dramas, it is this director. His approach is often lacking in flair and this allows the characters to roam free and resolve their problems in a realistic, gradual manner. For the most part, that is the case here.

However, unlike The Fighter, the question raised here is how long is too much time. After a promising start that sees Cooper arguing over Earnest Hemmingway, it slowly devolves into an awkward portrayal of mental illness. It was never going for sympathetic, but suddenly, Cooper didn't seem all that crazy or obsessive and tonally, it became problematic as the story progressed. True, it did have occasional callbacks, but the problem with the entire story lies in the fact that Cooper is an apt performer in a role that essentially falls apart in order to meet conventions. Of course, the choice to mix in football as Robert De Niro's character's obsession only muddles the water, but creates one last ditch effort at a formidable plot.

This is luckily saved by Jennifer Lawrence, who also has some mental problems of her own and seeks a relationship with Cooper involving a dance competition. With a familiar, trope filled, third act, this doesn't really feel like a great movie, but instead an average one with one great performance by Lawrence. The rest is a little bit of average actors giving average performances. Even Chris Tucker gets a few good lines in, but it is all ruined by an understated feel that drives the story into predictable, boring territory.

Lawrence's charismatic, troubled character is as close as the film comes to consistency and therein lies the humor. Cooper is fine, and in fact gives one of his better performances of his recent career. However, the film comes off as too safe and never feels tonally appropriate, eventually ditching the mental illness analysis that made the beginning an intriguing premise into a wasted subtext. There are complicated relationships, sure, but they begin to feel like they lack conflict. The humor relies on the conflicts of these characters, and when there isn't any, it just comes off as awkward.

Left to right: Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence
Silver Linings Playbook isn't an awful film, but it is a disappointing follow-up to The Fighter and seems too conventional for awards season, notably with its recent Golden Globe nominations. While Lawrence continues to be a fascinating actress who dedicates her skill to giving top notch performances, the rest of the film feels like it is under her. Cooper may be trying hard, but he just feels like a more nuanced version of who he played in The Hangover. Also, Robert De Niro doesn't really have anything meaty outside of a betting plot that goes nowhere interesting. 

However, Russell is an interesting director, as he turns this humble film into an aggressive example of zooms. Even the last shot of the film features an intense, quick zoom out. If this is attempting to look inside the minds of these characters and to feel their emotions, it doesn't work. All it does is agitate the viewer. Otherwise, his work is competent enough to keep the film from feeling too wrought with cliches.

What does this say about the movie's Oscar chances? Since I feel like I am in the minority on this film, there is little chance that my decision not to nominate it will go ignored. However, as stated before, Jennifer Lawrence is pretty good and well deserving of her Best Actress nomination. She has lead the pack for most of the season, only recently receiving competition from Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty. Her odds on statistics website Gold Derby are 19:10 in first with Chastain barely tailing at 12:5. It is a close race, but if the film deserves any award, it is this one.

I am not quite on board with the other acting nominations, though. Bradley Cooper for Best Actor seems like an insult, considering that it is a tight year and he somehow outranks the far superior performance by Joaquin Phoenix in The Master. Cooper is in fifth with odds of 8:1 while Phoenix tails with 20:1 odds. While I will admit that this gives me reason to believe that Cooper is capable of giving great performances in the future, this is not really an awards-worthy turn by him and in such a competitive year, a nomination will only seem like a waste on him.

As stated in a recent post, I do not get the Robert De Niro love. He probably will not win, but I believe that he will get nominated for his prestige. He is one of the greatest living actors and it has been awhile since he turned in a halfway decent role. Since the film is raking up nominations, I feel like it will give him a pity spot and probably make us remember why we like him. Of course, he is in third in the Best Supporting Actor race with odds of 11:2. He ranks pretty high, but I like to think that this is Philip Seymour Hoffman's year, who comes in second with odds of 4:1.

Left to right: Jackie Weaver and De Niro
The script, written by Russell and based off of Matthew Quick's book, was somewhat engaging and original, but is not that entertaining in terms of Best Adapted Screenplay. Argo's script is far more interesting and gives plenty of wit and intensity to a story that otherwise would have suffered. Silver Linings comes in second with odds of 7:2 behind Lincoln with odds of 19:10. Argo tails with odds of 4:1. Another pretty close race, but Silver Linings Playbook's script is not that entertaining considering other possible nominees like Life of Pi and Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Most of all, is it worthy of Best Picture? I say no. However, it currently sits in the top five possible nominees with odds of 9:1. It doesn't stand a chance of winning, but the consensus seems to be that it will stand a chance at a nomination. This is unfortunate, considering that it isn't the most engaging, original, or fun movie to be up for nominations this year. Somehow it outranks The Master and Moonrise Kingdom, though both make the top 10. The question is, with the sliding scale ruining any guarantees, just where the nominees will stop. It is personally one of my peeves about the new rule, which I felt was fine when it guaranteed 10.

In closing, I also don't think that Russell deserves a Best Director nomination. His work was far more interesting in The Fighter, and he got a nomination. This is just a mediocre film that somehow has gotten blown out of proportion. This is a light fare romantic comedy that isn't very strong in that category either. I feel like maybe Jennifer Lawrence is the one saving grace to the film, but everything else just feels too conventional. I do not understand the hype around this film, though as future entries will show, I am curious to see if Lawrence can beat Jessica Chastain come Oscar Night.

Is Silver Linings Playbook overrated? Will Bradley Cooper get a nomination over Joaquin Phoenix? Does the film stand any chance at Best Picture?


  1. Wow! Thank u! I though I was just anti. I feel the exact same way about this movie. Was wondering what the whole craze was as I watched it last night and I had to look around to see if I was crazy or if any one Lear felt the same way!

  2. My sentiments exactly. It was a very poor imitation of As Good As It Gets. But I guess in that genre, (mental disability), there is a movie every few years which the Academy feels the needs to praise.

    Definitely over rated.

    Life Of Pi is the stand out for me with Argo a close second.

  3. Yes YES YES! Average film and I don't even buy why everyone is in raving about Jennifer Lawrence.