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Director Russell strikes gold with compelling ‘Silver Linings Playbook’

Cooper and Lawrence’s chemistry charms audience

Published: Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, November 27, 2012 08:11

“Silver Linings Playbook” marks another excellent addition to the filmography of David O. Russell, acclaimed writer−director of films like “The Fighter” (2010), “I Heart Huckabees” (2004) and “Three Kings” (1999).

The film begins when Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) is picked up by his mother from a mental health institution, which has been the 30−something’s home for the past eight months. After learning that Pat suffers from bipolar disorder, we see him attempt to piece his life back together. The first step in that process: getting his wife back. The one problem, of course, is that she had placed a restraining order on him prior to his incarceration in the hospital.

Pat’s plan becomes more complicated when he meets the young, sex−obsessed Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) and is instantly attracted to her. After the death of her husband, Tiffany is also looking to get her life back on track and so the two soon strike up a deal. Tiffany agrees to deliver a letter to Pat’s wife in exchange for Pat partnering up with her in a local, but competitive, dance competition.

Every aspect of “Silver Linings Playbook” is incredibly well done. Danny Elfman, composer of “The Simpsons” theme song and frequent Tim Burton collaborator, provides a fantastic score. Visually, the camera fluctuates between hyper−kinetic and subdued styles that match Pat’s rapidly changing moods. Furthermore, Russell absolutely nails the pacing, creating a captivating and highly entertaining film from start to finish.

However, it is the acting that deserves the most attention. The two leads, Cooper and Lawrence, give perhaps the best performances of their careers. The film follows Pat for its entirety and we sympathize with him throughout thanks to Cooper’s charm. As Pat experiences emotional highs and lows, the audience does too, right along with him.

Like Pat, Tiffany has little regard for the norms of social interaction and Lawrence displays this with an unrelenting amount of energy in everything she does. She also exudes sexuality in the way she moves, dances and delivers her lines.

As good as Cooper and Lawrence are individually, it is their chemistry that raises this movie’s romance to an elite level. The tension between Pat and Tiffany starts the moment they lay eyes on each other, and we want badly to see the two further their mutual attraction. Nevertheless, Pat remains steadfast in his desire to win back his wife. It’s as if the entire movie is simply foreplay that builds to an enormously satisfying conclusion. Still, it is the fantastic scenes of literal foreplay, such as the dance practices or the almost−couple’s diner date in which Pat orders only raisin bran and Tiffany only tea, that make the big finish so incredible.

Alongside this pair of cinematic newcomers is legend Robert De Niro, who plays Pat’s Philadelphia Eagles−obsessed father. He adds a measure of humor to the film with his obsession and magical thinking — for example, he believes that the physical presence of Pat beside him while he watches the game will bring his team victory. After a long stretch of cash−out roles in bad movies, De Niro finally gets to play an interesting one here. Everything from his physicality to the rhythm of his speech comes together to form an endearing and memorable character.

Added to this wonderful cast is the great Chris Tucker. Playing one of Pat’s friends from the institution, Tucker steals every scene he’s in. One such scene has him spending an afternoon adding some of his own moves to Pat and Tiffany’s dance routine. He’s expectedly hilarious, and he brings layers of nuance to his mentally unbalanced character. After a five−year hiatus from acting — and an astounding 15−year break if you don’t count the “Rush Hour” (1998−2007) trilogy — it’s difficult to imagine a better return to film than what Tucker pulls off here.

“Silver Linings Playbook” has an awesome director, some of Hollywood’s biggest stars and a ton of charm. Even more importantly, this movie is darn entertaining, and it will make you believe that you are watching real life unfold before your eyes. Who could ask for more?

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