Saturday, November 17, 2012

Silver Linings Playbook

It’s uncanny how many of the truest and best movie moments are the quietest. Volume is so often a sign of desperation, of not having anything honest to say and so saying it louder. “Silver Linings Playbook” is above all a loud movie, full of hocking and shrying, carping and caterwauling – and false to the core. Plot, plot, two hours of churning, roiling plot – with situations too ridiculous even to think about, surprise twists that the densest viewers will have assumed from the beginning (the entire story arc, actually), and sketches of characters where the human beings are supposed to go.

Onetime Sexiest Man Alive Bradley Cooper plays Pat Solatano, a hair-trigger, newly diagnosed bipolar Philadelphian whose mom (Jacki Weaver) comes to take him home from the loony bin, where he’s spent eight months after finding his wife in the shower with a fellow teacher and beating the man to a pulp. Dad (Robert De Niro) is a superstitious Eagles fan with a gambling problem who’s lost his day job and turned to bookmaking. They shrug their shoulders and scream in frustration as Pat stalks his wife, violates her restraining order, and experiences one 3 A.M. delusion after another. De Niro, as usual, plays De Niro – an exaggerated, edges-ironed-out parody of himself, until (or perhaps especially when) the time comes for his big emotional moment (a/k/a the Supporting Actor Oscar clip). It’s good to see Weaver again after her toweringly menacing performance in “Animal Kingdom”; would that her role had more meat than the traditional matriarch who just wants all her angry, tortured men to make nice.

At dinner at the home of his best friend Ronnie and Ronnie’s wife Veronica (Julia Stiles), Pat meets Veronica’s sister, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who will become the love interest who may or may not supplant the wife he can’t get over. Jennifer Lawrence is a talented young actress, and it is possible for her to look good (as she did in a red Calvin Klein dress at the 2011 Academy Awards), but opposite an actor as handsome as Cooper, she comes off a bit like Jennifer Grey. Tiffany has a proposal for Pat: help her prepare for a dance contest she’s entered, and she’ll help him sneak a letter to his wife, Nikki. Director David O. Russell, who’s made some commendable films (“Spanking the Monkey,” “Three Kings”), gives us scenes worthy of a blooper reel from “So You Think You Can Dance?” (what kind of dance contest features professional ballroom dancers and these two oafs?). There’s also the question of whether Nikki actually writes the response letter Tiffany gives Pat and whether Dad wins his life-savings bet on the last Eagles game of the season (I’ll give you two guesses and the first one doesn’t count).

Philly’s such a great city now, it’s a shame Russell and screenwriter Matthew M. Quick don’t make better use of it. They relegate it to backdrop for a linear, screenplay-driven love story that keeps trying to build comic or romantic momentum without avail. Cooper rat-a-tats his endless lines of dialogue like machine-gun fire, not quite wooden but close. Lawrence, strident and unappealing for much of the picture, telegraphs Tiffany’s intentions. There’s an on-the-nose, sitcom-y quality to “Silver Linings Playbook,” and a lack of integrity. Several secondary characters – the cop assigned to keep tabs on Pat, the therapist he’s required to see – end scenes with lines of dialogue so out of step with who they are, you feel Russell would throw his mother under the bus for a plug nickel.

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