Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

“When life reaches out at a moment like this, it’s a sin if you don’t reach back.”

Directed By David O. Russell.
Directed By David O. Russell.

Silver Linings Playbook is a film adaptation of author Matthew Quick’s novel about a Pat Solitano, who struggles to readjust after a stint in a mental hospital. David O. Russell, director of I Heart Huckabees and The Fighter, again demonstrates his understanding of human movement through the world with this peculiar foray into the psychosocial.

Leading actress Jennifer Lawrence plays the role of Tiffany, an apparently fucked up girl whose instability was brought on by her husband’s death. Lawrence, unsurprisingly, slips into the role like an old professional and plays Tiffany in a very human way. While Lawrence has experienced recent success with blockbusters like The Hunger Games (also a film adaptation), she was recognized before then for her acting prowess when she was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role at the Academy Awards, for 2010 independent film Winter’s Bone (also based on a book). So for those of us who like to stay plugged into the indie movie scene, Jennifer Lawrence was already on the radar screen.

Bradley Cooper as Pat Solitano and Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany
Bradley Cooper as Pat Solitano and Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany

Lead actor Bradley Cooper on the other hand was not. While he has demonstrated great versatility in moving between comedies and dramas more smoothly than most actors do, Cooper hadn’t exactly had his Winter’s Bone, so to speak. but with Silver Linings Playbook, Cooper’s embodiment of Pat Solitano is gloriously uncomfortable. Pat set’s your teeth on edge. He makes you want to leave the room. It is as if his instability provokes instability in others. Cooper played the role like a cello. For every quick remark, every tense or loose muscle in his neck, every twitch and flicker Cooper was there, without the thin buffer that separates actor and character. Every nerve in his body was Pat Solitano. Every measure of temperament, the highs and the lows, were there and realistic. This may have been his best performance to date.

Jacki Weaver as Dolores Solitano and Robert De Niro as Patricio Solitano
Jacki Weaver as Dolores Solitano and Robert De Niro as Patricio Solitano

Reunited on screen with Cooper was Robert De Niro, who played Pat’s father, Pat Sr. Bookkeeper and dedicated Eagles fan, Pat Sr. was a superstitious and beautiful man. De Niro’s acting sensibility is always well adjusted to a balance between guarded and vulnerable, and that is exactly what his character was. De Niro’s performance was only illuminated by surrounding performances by Jacki Weaver (wife, Dolores Solitano), and Chris Tucker (Pat’s friend, Danny).

The story isn’t one that everyone can relate to, but its keen resonance is probably the most compelling truth of its greatness. A combination skilled performances by a wonderful cast, brilliant directing, and a naturally occurring, honest string of events has wrought a wonderful mess of a film.

This film is a romance. It could probably be described as a romantic comedy, but it is an outlier if that is so. All of the actors seemed to be so huddled around their characters. The vibrations of human life were all throughout. It was very unusual, and no part of it felt like acting. But more than this film is a romantic comedy, it is a biography. It is a biography of every gentle, and every violent movement and moment in the world. This film is soul cartography, and it is a silver lining around the dark cloud of the film industry.

Rating: 9/10


Young Adult (2011)

“And I noticed you got a KenTacoHut. You know, one of those Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell.”

Directed by Jason Reitman

Young Adult is yet another female driven dark comedy written by the magnificent Diablo Cody. Since her movies always feel like an extended vagina monologue gone meta, it’s hard for me not to love them. Her written work paired with the human smirk that is the film’s Director Jason Reitman make for a bangin’ film.

“This is a story of a girl who cried a river and drowned the whole world, and while she looked so sad in photographs I absolutely love her” prophesied  Nine Days’ John Hampson 12 years ago. No, Absolutely (Story of a Girl) is not a song about Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), Young Adult’s protagonist, but god damn do those lyrics run deep. Anyway, Mavis is the author of a young adult series, not a fucking kid’s series, a young adult series. She comes from a small town called Mercury where no one makes anything of themselves, so after her divorce she returns to try and rekindle things with her high school boyfriend Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson). In the interim, she connects with Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt) a crippled man-child who also went to her high school. They befriend each other and then shit hits the fan. And by shit, I mean Mavis.

There’s something about how Cody writes women that is so alluring. Maybe I, like everyone else who consumes primarily male written, directed, and produced films, am starved for authentic female characters. In any case, the essence of a woman as told by another woman added immensely to this film’s appeal.

This film flourished in intermediate scenes. When Mavis is covering her face in concealer. When she goes from a grease stained crumpled up napkin, to a cardigan-ed, powdered, primped mannequin/Rolling Stones groupie. When she eats trash, and watched trash television and walks down the street. When she listens to music in her car. Cody has a way of giving the atmosphere of reality. As kitschy as her films are, I always felt like I was watching real events, and real people. Albeit, pretty fucked up people.

Charlize Theron as Mavis Gary

Charlize Theron herself is massively versatile. She is one of those rare actresses who can travel seamlessly from one genre to the next. I still haven’t been able to wash her haunting performance from Monster out of my brain. She was such a shit stain in this film that it made you kind of hate her,  but it was so superbly acted that at the end of the film you felt you’d been through the taxing emotional experience that she had been through. You understood the mundane terror of feeling like your life has gone all wrong, and that it is too late to fix it.

The stand out performance for me was given by Patton Oswalt, a comedic actor in a comparatively dramatic role. His performance was real, and convincing and funny all at once. For me he really nailed the dark comedy. He’s one of those unexpected gems.

As for how the movie was written, Cody is just a genius comic. If you can find a way to get down in the mud with her, you can’t not enjoy yourself. The film is filled to the brim with quirky little characteristic quips. Her style is so culty. I just see her with a wide brimmed hat sitting on the edge of some roof, smoking cigarettes thinking ‘how can I get Charlize Theron to say the phrase ‘theater fag”?

The whole premise of the film. ‘Pyschotic prom queen bitch’ going back home to relive her glory days only to have a huge mirror shoved in her face, in the form of everyone she used to know. Seeing what became of all the youth from her past. Fucking used tampons and crushed soda cans of people

The Ultimate Showdown

scattered across the school yard, wishing they were somewhere else. Someone else. Finally it all culminates in an epic meltdown where we learn all the unsettling details of Mavis’ haunted past, that settles the score once and for all. The popular girl is just as miserable and unfulfilled as anyone else. Probably more miserable.  It’s all very familiar, but Cody manages to make it…..well, Cody. I’ll need to see it a few more times, but for me the movie did exactly what it was meant to do. A good dark comedy cuts deeper than a good drama. I think this one came quite close.

Mavis Gary: Yeah, but most people here seem so happy with so little. It’s like they don’t even seem to care what happens to them.
Sandra Freehauf: That’s because it doesn’t matter what happens to them. They’re nothing. Might as well die. Fuck Mercury.

Rating: 8/10