“Silver Linings Playbook” Review

Another weekend, another movie review. But hooray, because this was MUCH better (than “Zero Dark Thirty.”)

I think seeing “Silver Linings Playbook” cemented that if I had to pick a favorite director working right now, it would be David O. Russell. I always enjoy his movies, and they’re never exactly what you expect. He’s also one of the very few people who consistently makes movies about people who are middle or lower class without being patronizing or ridiculous. Characters in his movies live in houses like I and my friends lived in growing up. And that’s weirdly rare in Hollywood movies, where everyone is always some nebulous kind of architect or event planner who lives in an apartment the size of the batcave.

Anyway, I really enjoyed this movie, though I didn’t know exactly what to expect coming into it. It’s not really a romantic comedy, but I think it’s closer to that category than anything else. It’s basically about two very messed up people — one coming out of a mental hospital and one getting over the death of her husband — coming together. It’s not even quite a comedy exactly, even though it’s often very funny. It’s also frequently very upsetting, at least in the first half or so. There were a lot of moments where it was very hard to watch, simply because the people onscreen are so upset or or desperate or self-destructive.

It then sort of shifts gears and becomes a little more formulaic and a little less raw about two thirds through, but I had no complaints. It even has an ending involving a dance competition, which in any other movie would be completely eye-roll-worthy, but in this somehow seems real and inspiring.

Jennifer Lawrence is great, which is only what I expected, and Bradley Cooper is really terrific. I’ve always kind of liked Bradley Cooper, I think because I associate him with “Wet Hot American Summer,” but I’ve never see him in much except that and “The Hangover,” neither of which he really does much in. But he’s genuinely very good in this, capable of being both charming and actively repulsive.

Also, Robert De Niro is fantastic — and I’d honestly  forgotten that he’s even capable of being a good actor after seeing him sleepwalk through so many terrible movies without giving a crap. He’s not playing Robert De Niro or a parody thereof, he’s playing an actual character, which I think is the key. (He’s the Bradley Cooper character’s father, who is not completely sane in the standard sense himself.) He even looks different, sort of rundown and haggard. This is literally the best role I’ve seen him in, counting “Taxi Driver” and all that. Whatever David Russell does — which seems to include making everyone in his movies miserable — he gets astonishing performances out of actors. Chris Tucker is somehow in this movie and he’s awesome.

And even the minor characters are great. Bradley Cooper has a best friend who appears to be normal and successful but is actually on the edge of complete breakdown and talks about listening to Metallica and punching the walls until he hurts himself in his garage.  He also has a therapist, who is clearly a really terrible therapist, based on the advice he gives him, but also turns out to have more in common with the Cooper character than you realize.

Anyway, in addition to being a hundred times better than “Zero Dark Thirty,” this is for me one of the top two or three movies of 2012. Highly recommend, CJ seal of approval and all that. See it!

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