Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Posted by Ian Mantgani on 17th January, 2013

For director David O Russell, the film adaptation of Matthew Quick’s novel Silver Linings Playbook means: The neutering of the adventurous spirit and curious wit shown in his debut Spanking the Money; the veneration of the cloying, calculated theory-of-everything quirk that audiences first rejected when he released I Heart Huckabees; the normalisation of his role in awards-machine hackwork that he seemed to just be flirting with in The Fighter.

Silver Linings is not without its moments, but that’s a throw-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks proposition. The film is a grab-bag of sensitive issues, redemptive opportunities and magical thinking: Bradley Cooper gets of out of mental hospital still medicated up to his glassy eyeballs, full of empty shouting about positive thinking and plans to get back his estranged wife; he finds similarly damaged goods in Jennifer Lawrence, who’s a widow, and a former sex addict, but can also teach Cooper to dance! Robert De Niro plays Cooper’s father, whose violent rages are clearly the seed of our hero’s own tricky temperament – but mainly he thinks that his son possesses some talismanic power over the results of football games, and if only father and son can bond, they can win the big bets on Sunday and save the family! Will all this come together in a high-stakes uplifting finale? You betcha!

Silver Linings Playbook doesn’t just exploit both mental illness and sports betting to throw coincidences, teachable moments and divine interventions at us at a pace convenient enough to surpass self-parody, it also forgets to possess a sense of time passing, so when Cooper and Lawrence emerge as expert dancing partners ready to admit they love each other, it all seems a bit sudden. The climactic dance scene is admittedly great – sexy, cathartic, a moment of freedom in a busy script. Chris Tucker also deserves singling out for an energetic supporting performance as a perennially escaping mental patient. But this is not a project of enough weight or even charm to deserve eight Oscar nominations, let alone be a serious contender for Best Picture. If this is our equivalent of Ordinary People, Cuckoo’s Nest or even As Good As It Gets, we’re in a lot of trouble.