You know those songs that really annoy you when they’re playing but then get stuck in your head for days? I really hate those.
So, David O. Russell has a new movie. He’s the guy I still haven’t forgiven for I Heart Huckabees. On the other hand, he did direct the interesting Three Kings and The Fighter, which brought Christian Bale his overdue Oscar, so my feelings for him as a director are officially mixed. Just like my feelings for his new movie, Silver Linings Playbook.
The first David O. Russell film since 1994 not to star Mark Wahlberg, it was off to a great start. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence play psychiatrically-challenged-but-otherwise-a-great-catch pair of broken souls who, of course, manage to find each other. Same old story, right? Not so fast. If you think this is an ordinary crazy-boy-meets-crazy-girl story, then you’ve got another thing coming. Lots of other things. And be prepared to duck, because they’ll be coming fast and hard.
This is the most frenetic romantic comedy I’ve ever seen. The dialogue comes at you faster than a Mamet play and there is so much of it, you find yourself aching to keep up. The performances here are truly noteworthy, but Russell (who also wrote the screenplay, based on the novel by Matthew Quick) doesn’t give the audience a chance to notice because everything is at a breakneck pace, unrelenting and unforgiving to those who would just like a moment to breathe.
I understand the point of it. The pace is designed to reflect the frenetic and impulsive instincts of the two main characters, brought together by their shared manic-ness—I get it. But great acting is more than line readings—I will always believe in the magic of chemistry and nuance. To use a football metaphor, because there is a lot of football referenced in this movie, Silver Linings Playbook feels like it’s constantly in a two-minute drill, trying desperately to reach its goal before the clock runs out. It really is uncomfortable, especially when you’re trying to appreciate performances that I’m sure are really textured—but who has time to notice? I walked out feeling dizzy, the movie is such a headrush.
But then something weird happened.
A couple of hours later, once I had caught my breath, I found my thoughts continuing to wander back to the movie. It seems I had finally caught up. That’s the thing about this movie: it’s really got something. It’s impossible to realize at the time, but it’s really rich, textured and monumentally heartfelt—you just have to give it time to resonate.
This is a movie about broken people, flawed, floundering and often misunderstood losers in life. Those awkward teenagers who turned into the awkward adults? That’s them. It’s hard to believe Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence as losers, but movies force us to stretch the imagination and here it actually works, for the most part. Besides Lawrence being way too young and Cooper being way too handsome, they pull it off and deliver two of their best performances. Cooper especially seems to relish in the mania of it all, as he plays a guy who you never really seem to know and yet you learn to like anyway. Lawrence, however, provides the film’s real spark, a cross between Lisbeth Salander and Meg Ryan. Vibrant and intense, Lawrence’s character is by far the most interesting thing in the movie, although there were moments when I felt she was trying a bit too hard to establish a rebellious thread that sometimes comes off as bizarrely awkward. Jacki Weaver and Robert De Niro deliver great support, De Niro showing signs of past greatness that we haven’t seen in a while.
But what lingers about Silver Linings Playbook is its relatable pathos. There is palpable desperation in every character and the ways it manifests itself and finds its solace in each is a remarkable blend of individual catharsis and communal strength. Survival, be it physical or emotional, takes resilience and determination and I loved watching these interesting people tackle their demons head on.
So, yes, this movie was an odd experience for me and I’m not sure how to recommend it. I can’t say I really enjoyed it, but, then again, it found a way to strike a chord and I found myself still thinking about it long after the credits, which is more than I can say about 99% of movies. It is a cinematic risk worth taking.