Saturday, December 29, 2012

Playbook has its Silver Linings

Two twenty-somethings have dinner at a nearby diner. He orders cereal. She orders tea, but it's not a date. They talk about her dead husband and her sexually-charged grief. The not-date ends in screaming, insults and shattered plates.

This is not your average romantic comedy.

Director/writer David O'Russell manages to balance both romance and comedy. Here, he proves, once again, he's capable of tackling any genre. He borrows action from 2010s The Fighter and comedy from 2004s I Heart Huckabees and adds some romance, based on Matthew Quick's novel, and fuses these elements to bring us one action-packed, laugh-out-loud romance.

Pat (Bradley Cooper) is trying to connect to his estranged wife, after being released from a mental institution, where he's treated for bi-polar disorder. He moves back in with his parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver) and focuses on getting his life back by working out and reading novels. However, Pat's goal is complicated when he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence, Hunger Games), a recent widow with problems of her own.

Is Silver Linings Playbook predictable? Ultimately, but O'Russell is such a powerhouse of a filmmaker, he won't drag you through tedious get-to-know-you conversations, sedentary dinner "dates," polite family conversations and hand-holding montages. Playbook punches through those cliches and makes us want to see Pat have his re-imagined Hemingway ending. But not before a few more emotional breakdowns, family fist fights, and unprofessionally choreographed dance lessons.

The film's pace dictates Pat's disorder. There are some touching moments then sudden manic episodes. The film moves quickly, but there's little problem connecting to Cooper and Lawrence's characters. Why? He's blunt, honest and has "no filter." He also goes into MMA mode when he hears a particular song. We're so engaged in this character, we forget Lawrence is soon on her way and when she finally pops onscreen during the second act, it just adds to all the fun and chaos. Tiffany is just as honest, harsh and unstable. Watching them both go at is is like a fairly-paired match--you don't know who's gonna win.

Cooper re-teams with his Limtless co-star De Niro, showing us his versatility playing a father who loves his son more than his beloved Eagles. Cooper again proves he's a leading man, capable of holding a film on his own, which is a tough act to follow after O'Russell's last film. I don't think any one's gonna forget Christian Bale's performance...or Melissa Leo's or Amy Adams' or Mark Wahlberg's--What the hell, they were all good!--but the performances in Playbook most certainly sufficed.
Not only are O'Russell's films well written, but his actors are so engaging. The dynamic between his main players, particularly De Niro, Lawrence and Cooper is what makes Playbook such a fun experience.

The film also stars Chris Tucker, John Ortiz, Julia Stiles and Anupam Kher.

You may feel you already know the experience you'll get by the end of the film, but let me ask you: Does knowing your destination ever make the ride less fun?

Rating: B+

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