Monday, February 11, 2013

“Silver Linings” is golden

Director David O. Russell has created a resounding success with the filming of Matthew Quick’s debut novel “Silver Linings Playbook.”

Quick’s subject matter is a veritable vortex of the pop culture Zeitgeist in America – mental disorders, dysfunction, and dance – which Russell brings to the screen in a direct fashion, relying on fine dramatic performances and classic cinematography, both beautiful and understated, not to mention a sublime soundtrack mix.

The film’s mini-ensemble cast of characters is quirky yet empathetic. You can’t mistake the real feel of family and friends that is the backbone of this movie. O, did I mention the plot also involves football and gambling, and more running than any movie since “Forrest Gump?”

Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany delivers a performance as gripping and moving as anything in the past 75 years of cinema. Indeed, Lawrence astounds with a powerful onscreen presence awash in natural dignity and the purity of her craft, reminiscent of Betty Davis or Ida Lupino. Lawrence displays a seemingly limitless depth and breadth of emotive powers. She is quicksilver and rock solid. Make no mistake, Lawrence is the eye of this narrative storm. Actor Robert Deniro even seems to step out of character to acknowledge this rising star in a scene where the bookmaker he plays is forced to reconsider an elaborate football handicapping strategy in the face of Tiffany’s bold gambit.

Pat (Bradley Cooper) suffers from a mental disorder diagnosed in the wake of a violent, pre-story episode. Released from the mental ward at the film’s outset, Pat only acts out violently when off his meds and then seemingly only against reading materials.

Certainly many moviegoers might be tempted to give the manic hunk a pass on his crime of passion, but that violent past is disturbing, especially since it is so intimately linked to Pat’s efforts to move forward with his life. Cooper threads the needle in his portrayal of a troubled and flawed man who remains nonetheless sympathetic almost in spite of himself, as if his disorder is only an overemphasis of certain ideal qualities.

Pat wears a plastic garbage bag over his sweats when running around the neighborhood. The garbage bag and aimless running are apt metaphors for troubled Pat, whose feet initially propel him into his past in violation of restraining orders. It is Tiffany who channels that raw energy away from solitary, mindless pavement-pounding into a heart-pounding dance routine for two that ultimately reveals a silver lining.

Along the way the couple attempts a dinner date which spins surreal as the two medicated personalities spar with each other over a bowl of cereal while the ordinary folks around them go about their mundane business costumed for Halloween.

Can Tiffany’s love cure Pat of his unrealistic longing for the past and provide a source of future happiness? You have to wonder what kind of odds Pat’s bookmaker dad would give on an exacta consisting of an inveterate slut and a man who beats his wife’s lover to a bloody pulp. The answer doesn’t matter because such hypotheticals go beyond the arc of the narrative. Besides, if there is one point to the entire film, it’s that silver linings are what we have when we try our best in this imperfect world of our own making.

The celebration at the dance contest crystallizes the notion of success within a group portrait of family and friends. The Hollywood happy ending touches us because Pat and Tiffany themselves are exemplars of a society seemingly built on roadblocks to happiness.

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