Not enough clouds in this silver lining
An initially edgy romcom is enjoyable but ends up playing it too safe, writes Donald Clarke
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!