Not enough clouds in this sil­ver lin­ing

An ini­tially edgy rom­com is en­joy­able but ends up play­ing it too safe, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - REVIEWS -

SIL­VER LININGS PLAYBOOK ★★★ Star­ring Bradley Cooper, Jen­nifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Anu­pam Kher, Ju­lia Stiles, Chris Tucker 15A cert, gen­eral re­lease, 121 min IT MUST BE Novem­ber. Each au­tumn, as Os­car vot­ers pe­ruse their bal­lots, we are pre­sented with a semi-se­ri­ous, cau­tiously ad­ven­tur­ous com­edy that – with­out tax­ing the brain too much – seeks to re­as­sure the viewer that he or she is an adult. Last year it was The De­scen­dants. This year it is David O Rus­sell’s adaptation of Matthew Quick’s self-helpy Sil­ver Linings Playbook.

It’s a de­cent enough pic­ture. Bradley Cooper stretches out to play a bi-polar dream­boat re­cently re­leased from a state in­sti­tu­tion. Jen­nifer Lawrence is first-rate as a fire­cracker with the same condi-

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tion. Rus­sell (still play­ing safe af­ter the de­ba­cle that was I Heart Huck­abees) of­fers a mildly earthy take on blue-col­lar Penn­syl­va­nia that com­pares favourably with his mildly earthy take on blue-col­lar Mas­sachusetts in The Fighter. But, for rea­sons we will come to, the film ul­ti­mately feels like a bit of a con.

Pat Soli­tano (Cooper), de­tained af­ter as­sault­ing his wife’s lover, is dis­patched from one (par­don the po­lit­i­cal in­cor­rect­ness) mad­house to an­other. It’s all barmy chat­ter at the his par­ent’s pad. Mrs Soli­tano (the de­pend­able Jacki Weaver) strives hard to re­tain a de­gree of or­der while Mr Soli­tano (the ac­tor who was once Robert De Niro) at­tempts to fight off ob­ses­sive-com­pul­sive dis­or­der while de­vel­op­ing an un­der­ground ca­reer as a sports book­maker.

What to say about De Niro? Emerg­ing from a se­ries of cine- matic catas­tro­phes that would give Rob Schneider pause for thought, Bob em­braces the op­por­tu­nity to sink into a meaty ensem­ble with re­strained en­thu­si­asm. His per­for­mance doesn’t rat­tle the bones. But the fact that he’s not pos­i­tively ghastly is cause for mod­est cel­e­bra­tion.

Cooper just about gets away with his ad­ven­ture in range ex­pan­sion. Play­ing a man psy­cho­log­i­cally in­ca­pable of grasp­ing new re­al­i­ties – he is con­vinced his wife will take him back – the break­out star of The Han­gover strug­gles valiantly with the hap­pily linked dilem­mas of be­ing too darn good-look­ing and too blasted charm­ing. It shouldn’t be this easy to per­suade us to for­give Pat’s many out­rages.

Lawrence’s turn as Tif­fany Maxwell is, how­ever, an un­qual­i­fied tri­umph. A med­i­cated de­pres­sive who has given in to pathologi- cal sex­ual promis­cu­ity, Tif­fany belts out barbs with an un­medi­ated can­dour that al­ter­nately charms and re­pels.

There is, per­haps, some­thing du­bi­ous – thoughts of Lear’s Fool – about the film’s en­thu­si­asm for al­low­ing men­tally ill peo­ple to speak truth unto the less in­hib­ited. But Lawrence in­hab­its the char­ac­ter so fully that one can fully un­der­stand her cur­rent sta­tus as bookie’s favourite for that best ac­tress Os­car.

In­evitably, the two beau­ti­ful peo­ple start an un­easy friend­ship that ap­pears des­tined to evolve into ro­mance. For its first half, the film does seem gen­uinely brave. Both char­ac­ters re­main ob­du­rate and flinty. For no good rea­son, Tif­fany will emit steam and storm mood­ily down the street. Pat’s solip­sism is un­re­lent­ing. The pic­ture looks to be at­tempt­ing a ro­mance be­tween two char­ac­ters that defy all the easy con­ven­tions of the ro­man­tic com­edy.

Then some­thing per­fectly aw­ful hap­pens. Of­fer­ing us an ab­surdly neat cli­max that threat­ens to tie up ends that would bet­ter have re­mained loose, Tif­fany per­suades Pat to part­ner her in a ball­room danc­ing com­pe­ti­tion. If they win, the lame shall walk and the dis­turbed will find peace. This is not the stuff of grown-up cinema. It’s the kind of plot that drove in­fe­rior episodes of The Golden Girls.

Though ap­par­ently scored to a mid­dle-aged bore’s iPod (Bob Dy­lan, Dave Brubeck, Ste­vie Won­der) Sil­ver Linings Playbook re­mains a very classy, ac­cept­ably funny slice of comic drama. But that even­tual cop-out feels deeply un­sat­is­fac­tory. To para­phrase an­other mu­si­cian favoured by bores of my gen­er­a­tion: did you ever get the feel­ing you’ve been cheated? Ah, ha ha!


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