As the Oscars approach, I’ll be reviewing each of the films nominated for Best Picture, and handicapping the contest based on not only the artistic merit of the films themselves, but also some of the political machinations that effect the voting. To see my analysis so far, please click here to read my review of Django Unchained or here for Argo. Today, I review Silver Linings Playbook. TS
Last weekend marked the wide release of Silver Linings Playbook. Directed by David O. Russell and produced by The Weinstein Company, the film has been in limited release for the past nine weeks and has been impressive at the box office, having grossed $57 M so far. The film has also earned a bevy of award nominations including an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, no surprise considering the pedigree of the producers, cast and crew. David O. Russell most recently directed The Fighter in 2010, another excellent film that was also nominated for Best Picture. And of course, the Weinsteins have produced dozens of award winning films over the last thirty years. Which brings us to Silver Linings Playbook.
Stars, Bradley Cooper (The Hangover, Limitless) and Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone, The Hunger Games), give excellent lived-in performances as two flawed characters struggling to be better than what they are. In Cooper’s case he plays Pat Solatano Jr., a man devastated by his wife’s infidelity, and the resulting separation from her after he nearly beats another man to death. Pat now finds himself released from a mental hospital, off his meds and living at home with his parents in Philadelphia. Lawrence plays Tiffany, an emotionally damaged young woman who has lost a husband to war and acted out sexually in a way that boarders on compulsion or addiction or both. They are both damaged goods.
The story is rounded out by solid character performances from a talented ensemble cast that includes Robert De Niro, Chris Tucker and Jackie Weaver. The story is an uplifting one that builds to a climax as Pat and Tiffany rehearse a routine for a dance competition. See the trailer below.
The script, written by David O.Russell based on a novel written by Matthew Quick, is generally excellent, though its essential weaknesses is a contrivance that places the big dance competition on the same night of the big football game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys. Cooper’s father, Pat Sr., as played by De Niro, makes his living in retirement as a bookmaker. He bets a friend a large sum of money that not only will the Eagles, his beloved team, win on Sunday, but that Pat Jr. and Tiffany will score at least a 5.0 from the judges at the dance competition. Guess what happens? The dance competition as personal life redemption feels a little weak, a little too easy and also a little too familiar in world where Dancing with the Stars is in its fifteenth season, but that is a small complaint.
All that said, I expect the reason why Silver Linings Playbook won’t win Best Picture, doesn’t have to do with the quality of the performances or script, but rather has to do with the scope of the film, which is simply not grand enough. Visually, it is neither sophisticated or cutting edge enough to earn the big prize, considering that the subject matter is also not of monumental scope. The victory presented is the victory of two young people learning to fall in love again after heartbreak, no small accomplishment certainly, but no grand accomplishment either.
Best Picture usually goes to films that relate exceptional stories that are beyond the experience of the everyday. Lord of the Rings, Gladiator, The Hurt Locker, Slumdog Millionaire, to name a few of the last ten years. Love happens to everybody. Only a few people have to drop the ring of all power into the fires at Mordor, or deactivate bombs, or slay tigers for the delight of the crowd. Compared to the current crop of Best Picture nominees, Silver Linings Playbook lacks the grandeur of Lincoln or Les Miserables, the precision of Argo or the daring of Django Unchained.
While the Weinsteins have been able to pull off some miracles before, not the least of them being Shakespeare in Love’s victory over Saving Private Ryan for Best Picture in 1998, it seems unlikely that they will be able to elevate Silver Linings Playbook above the contenders in the field. The silver lining for Silver Linings Playbook is that the film will prosper in the sense that matters most in Tinseltown, financially. But it won’t be Best Picture.