Screwball comedy: Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell trying to talk faster and louder than each other. In Silver Linings Playbook the heroine and the hero, and his father, are shrink-bait.

Plot from IMDB: 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.

Wisely conventional, it’s “only” a matter of how director David O. Russell can keep us off balance but on-side till the finale. As an early signpost to where things will end up, Pat (Bradley Cooper) critiques Hemingway’s ruthlessly tragic Farewell to Arms by throwing it out a (closed) window and ranting about it to his parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver): What’s his problem? Isn’t life hard enough, couldn’t he give them a happy ending!?

Bit intense good-bad guy and ticking sex bomb

Every character is slightly larger than life, an exaggeration short of caricature — not so much melodramatic, but in the way we have been made familiar by TV comedies. As couple trouble Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence have immense charisma: Cooper’s short-fused — bi-polar — Patrick is working seriously hard to stop from unhinging, he looks too intensely at everyone; Lawrence superbly gives “slutty” Tiffany an unstable mixture of self-aware failings and vulnerable independence (even more stellar than her work in Winter’s Bone). Jacki Weaver’s Noo Joisie is so convincing that alongside “sensational” and “wonderful” American reviews have made note that she is an Australian native.

No Big Themes here, Silver Linings Playbook is modestly pitched: a romantic comedy of neuroses played out among the upper working class with no access to greater affairs beyond having a child in the wars or being a dispensable statistic in the economy. The film climaxes around a bet on football and a local dance competition on which ride the future personal happiness of the family — all the nobodies — involved. But, right there, right then, on that night in Philly, could the stakes be any higher?

To note that the movie is replete with corn and sentiment, and is unashamedly manipulative, is not to denigrate its intentions — it cleaves to its chosen genre; that it succeeds is the only justification required. And it clearly pleased the crowd we were in: it had us nervously chortling, including the hard-to-satisfy Constant Gardener. The ancient father-in-law said afterwards that he didn’t have a clue what happened but thought the acting excellent — so a good time was had by all.

Me, I’m itching to see it again, just for Lawrence and Cooper.

+ + +

For totally opposing views about the quality of this film listen to  Adam and Josh on Filmspotting #423. They go hammer and tongs.


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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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