What You’ll Like:
- Stellar performances
- Intense dramatic family conflicts and relationships
- Great comedic timing
- Gripping dialogue
- Cute soundtrack
What You May Not:
- Somewhat cliche final act unbalances overall film
- You’d wish character study would go deeper
What You’ll Remember:
- Jennifer Lawrence, Jennifer Lawrence, Jennifer Lawrence
Silver Linings Playbook was a pleasantly surprising indie film which grew intense popularity initially through word of mouth after its premiere in Toronto mid-2012, and then later through its U.S. release the following November by major critical acclaim and grand audience acceptance and appraisal. Combining some interesting and unexpected casting choices to take on its script’s intense and complicated characters and a unique premise of a character study, Playbook blew away box office numbers by totaling an amount of $233 million worldwide, profiting eleven times its original budget. Rightfully deserving of its Guild awards, four Golden Globes, and eight Academy Award nominations, one of which won Jennifer Lawrence an oscar for best lead actress, Playbook has undoubtedly set a standard by which all relevant indie dramas should be compared.
Playbook tells the story of recovering OCD mental health patient and former public school teacher Pat Solitano, played impeccably spot-on by Bradley Cooper (The Hangover, Hit & Run, Failure to Launch), who gets released from a local mental facility and must move back into his parent’s home and deal with the trials of getting his life back together. Though he has an OCD condition, most of his behavioral outbursts are due to a sort of post traumatic stress that resulted from his near fatal beating of a former school colleague who he caught his separated wife Nikki cheating with. Though they are separated, Pat makes it his mission to win Nikki back despite all he’s been through, as well as her careful reserves. Helping Pat slowly set things in order are his loving and thoughtful parents, played by Robert Deniro as Pat Sr. and Australian actress Jacki Weaver (The Five Year Engagement) as Dolores. Pat begins to reconnect with older neighborhood friends when by chance one of their younger sisters gets introduced to him, Tiffany, played by Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games, Winter’s Bone) whose performance of such a toxic and anti-PC yet beautifully raw and fearlessly bold young woman is so intensely captivating that audiences quite honestly may as well have gotten D-list actors to support all around and still remember Tiffany for years to come.
Similar to Pat, Tiffany comes from a rough past, yet hers includes much more sexual deviance due to a depression brought on by the death of her husband; and although her emotional imbalances and social recklessness cause a jagged rift with nearly every person she is close with, Lawrence exudes her vulnerabilities and buried sorrow with such an invested focus and irrevocable talent that one wishes they could actually be friends with someone who on the surface comes off as such an immensely difficult social nihilist. One could even call her a sociological heroine after all her kicked up dust is settled. Lawrence is quite easily the star of the show here, gracefully robbing every single scene in which she takes part by if not her talent alone than just plain ol’ gorgeous looks. Yours Grinch truly must say, he absolutely loves Tiffany.
Beginning with the support of this dynamic duo, besides Deniro and Weaver, is Pat’s friend Danny, who was surprisingly casted to Chris Tucker (Dead Presidents, Rush Hour). Thankfully, even though Danny is a fellow former mental patient like Pat, Tucker has no inkling of that annoying presence he has garnered for himself in previous action films; on the contrary, his performance is quite good, if only trumped by Lawrence and Cooper alone. Pat’s friends Ronnie and Veronica (Tiffany’s older and more normal sister) have their own sub-plot of marriage issues to deal with, but does well to make Cooper’s character further well-rounded, as do his confident and outgoing therapist and successful older brother who comes for a visit and takes Pat out to a live football game. This is where the plot would take on a significant turn.
Playbook is mostly a character study on the emotional turmoil of not only dealing with such attached anger and frustration of past mistakes, but also balancing those with all new difficult yet hopeful circumstances that arise once said characters are trying to put things in order in their own time. David Russell is absolutely brilliant as director at not only gracing us with such a fantastic story through an incredible screenplay, but also gives the perfect amount of screen time and film-making techniques to each actor in order to bring it all to such memorable life. At least it starts out this way, that is until things begin to take on a more “Hollywood” turn towards the somewhat disappointing final act of the film, after Tiffany invites Pat to an improv dance contest for which they must practice relentlessly for. Since Pat’s father placed a hefty bet on not only their good performance but also on a local Philadelphia Eagles game, it gives Tiffany and Pat incentive to win for the sake of the family; yet without spoiling any details, the film takes a less indie-style turn to more conventional Hollywood methods in the use of camera work and screenplay cliches, which do somewhat ruin some potential in more deeply exploring the characters we so yearn to keep hearing from. While many may regard this portion as worthwhile and effective, I could understand where this opinion comes from. Playbook, being simply viewed as a piece of well-paced entertainment has to evolve as any film cohering to a mainstream norm must, and for the sake of the finality of circumstances as well as nominally satisfying character closure, the ending does work on a functional level. Still, my only wish was that Playbook maintain the tone and direction of what it started out with, keeping us learning about these amazingly complex personalities and struggles, which the ending regrettably seems to delve away from for reasons that could easily be considered as the hope of creating something more accessible to a wider range of mainstream audiences. Those who agree after viewing the film may see this as either a mild or major setback; my opinion holds to somewhere in the middle, but still enough to notice and prefer differently.
Russell certainly knows his craft, and with the use of shaky cam, is able to create an atmosphere within the Solitano household that gives us a challenging and realistic depiction on the inner workings of this American suburban family of Eagles fanatics, who despite their various domestic issues, truly love each other and ache to be even closer, no matter the amount of trials it takes to do so. Deniro alone is able to display a true love for his son Pat, even though the odds seem so against it considering Pat’s emotional problems, not to mention when Pat Sr. must still lay down his disciplinary hand. Weaver is equally as wonderful as the struggling mother, who we as the audience genuinely feel for as she tries so desperately to help her son through sacrifices and tears, despite his moments of verbal abuse and physical intimidation. The strength within family conveyed here is so incredibly well captured that one should not feel surprised to leave the film wanting to hug their own mother out of sheer appreciation. As far as Russell’s comedic timing, it is nothing short of perfect, for lack of a better word. While this is definitely not a comedy, those few comedic moments when we are first being introduced to the relationship between Tiffany and Pat are some of the most charming movie moments you’ll experience all year and even beyond; the character chemistry is downright genius, and much of it is due to Russell using just the right angles and edits at exactly the right times.
Playbook is both able to not only treat us to such relevant and memorable character story arcs, but also put it forth in a refreshingly entertaining way for a film of its lower budget; doing it all with a fully realistic presentation, relating to many even if the emotional disorders displayed by the characters aren’t anything many people can side with. Playbook is outright gripping, with intense. unapologetic, and passionately written dialogue that will no doubt keep any audience invested in learning about the character’s personal thoughts and motivations, as well as hankering for what will come next. Without the talents in the terrific casting choices, much of the film may not have worked, because they bring it alive more than the actual story itself alone ever could.
A good handful of deleted scenes are a treat here to those who desire a bit more background on the amazing characters. There is one film discussion with interviews from the cast and crew, but is not really so much of a behind-the-scenes as most of those details are left out in preference for film origins and the like. Furthermore, a Q&A session involving only the director and some writers may only serve those more hardcore fans. Lastly, there are two more or less throwaway shorts on the work done in the dancing sequences with none of the film’s stars; but considering those weren’t the best parts of the movie, it’s not entirely all that engaging.
Graphics and Sound:
There are no real complaints with how the film looks or sounds. Granted, this is not a special effects affair in the least, and judging from past dramas in HD, the film does not stand out but does not disappoint or fail anywhere here either. Picture is as sharp as anyone would expect, and considering the use of shaky cam, the more realistic color tones and contrast of the film don’t hold any vivid shape, yet are not supposed to, because doing so would detract from the realism the director is trying to present. All dialogue is clearly audible, never faltering even with Deniro’s deeper voice or any higher pitched ones. The music also never overtakes a scene and is well balanced against the dialogue in parts where both are audible. Volume is also at a good level, so no having to turn it up too high outside from how you normally hear regular television.
Playbook is fantastic, and various viewings will most likely be had simply due to examining the incredible performances further and further. And even though my own personal score of 3 silver linings out of 4 may seem low to some, all the great positives stated about it are within the 3. Unfortunately, the ending simply does too much to unbalance what the film could have been, distancing itself from the direction it was seeming to originally take, and I could easily hypothesize that if altered, this film could have perhaps taken home the Academy Award for Best PIcture against ‘Argo’ which won over it. Still, Silver Linings Playbook shall no doubt be considered among the modern indie classics and is 100% absolutely worth your time and money.