Monday, January 21, 2013

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK...a quirky, pleasing surprise

I have seen two movies in the last two weeks: GANGSTER SQUAD and SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK. First, let me dismiss the former with a slight bit of praise. It's great to look at. All those sleek '50s autos, beautiful women in sexy gowns, and a recreated LA back in its glory days. In the foreground we have Emma Stone, a slightly younger and far less sexy version of Lauren Bacall as gang boss Mickey Cohen's moll and smartly fashionable Ryan Gosling as a police officer who seems to wear a completely different GQ outfit in each scene. One knows how Emma affords her smokin' hot gowns, but how does a cop manage Gosling's wardrobe? Well, that about sums up the depth of this movie.

On the positive side, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK doesn't depend on surfaces; instead, it goes for the gut. Directed by David O. Russell who also adapted the screenplay, this comedic drama confronts mental illness and loss with humor and grit. The first half of the movie may be unsettling for some. Bradley Cooper, in a surprisingly moving performance, plays Pat Solitano, a young man who has a bi-polar disorder and has come home after being committed for eight months. Robert DeNiro and Jacki Weaver play his parents, and Jennifer Lawrence is Tiffany Maxwell, a young widow who has become a sex addict. This is a combustible group. Add the Philadelphia Eagles, a Dancing with the Stars type dance contest, and a cast of warm and shopworn supporting players, and we have a heady mix of genres and character types. Director Russell, who made the screwball comedy FLIRTING WITH DISASTER, the Iraqi antiwar comedy THREE KINGS, and the boxing drama THE FIGHTER, brings his unique knack for character development to SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK.

Pat is a young man who is desperate to get back on track after his breakdown but fumbles again and again with his parents and a strange and abrupt young widow. As a background, Pat's parents are overly supportive but don't know what to do to help their son. Dad wants to connect with his obsession for the Philadelphia Eagles. Tiffany is an angry young woman who is also trying to redefine herself. This oddball assortment manages to keep this film from becoming overly depressing and overly sentimental, a rare balancing act. Lawrence is both abrasive and vulnerable as the young widow, and DeNiro redeems himself after fifteen or so years of terrible movies (Meet the Parents, et al). But the real star is director/writer David O. Russell who has developed such memorable characters in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK.

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