The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

January 14, 2013

Does Silver Linings Playbook Shine?

Roger Thomas
The Stanly News & Press

Monday, January, 14, 2013 — Almost everyone has seen formulaic romantic comedies:  two people meet, fall in love, something threatens their romance, then they end up “happily ever after.” It is a tried and true story arc, and these predictable films make money even though the audience gets exactly what it is expecting, nothing more, nothing less.  

Occasionally, however, a rom-com comes along that offers something unique. It may be the story is told in a creative way, performances that are something special, or truly remarkable dialogue, great lines which can be quoted again and again. “500 Days of Summer” (2009) is still my favorite rom-com of the last decade and maybe longer. I smile every time I think of that film. “Fever Pitch” (2005) is also one I can watch again and again. This year’s “Ruby Sparks” is witty, smart and provocative in its message. And then there is “Silver Linings Playbook.”

Let me begin with the two flaws I found in the film. One is very minor: the first 10 to 15 minutes of the film seem to lag and offer very little humor. The second flaw, which I would characterize as major, is that the climax of the film seems very contrived. If one thinks about it too much, the reality, which the rest of the film has so carefully sustained, seems to evaporate.

But here’s the thing. Neither of those flaws matter. Not in the least. Once the laughs start, they are abundant. And even as I was telling myself that the last 20 minutes were as predictable as every romantic comedy I have criticized over the last 25 years, it just did not matter. Let the climax be filled with flaws, because it works. “Silver Linings Playbook” shines from almost the beginning until the closing credits roll.    

Here is what I like about the film. First, the two lead performances are phenomenal. Both Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence are winning critics awards and getting Oscar buzz. It is well deserved. I personally hope Lawrence wins. She continues to impress playing a grieving soul. (Her three biggest roles are “Winter’s Bone,” searching and then grieving for her father, “Hunger Games” where she again plays a girl grieving for her father and for new friends she loses along the way, and now “Silver Linings” where she is grieving for her dead husband.)

Second, there is an impressive supporting cast including two time Oscar winner Robert DeNiro and Oscar nominee Jacki Weaver. Plus all the secondary characters have subplots that fill out the story and give the film a greater context.

Third, the characters in this film talk like real people. (That is not a comment about their profane language though the film contains a good bit of that.) The dialogue here seems authentic. Someone might actually speak those words in a real setting. Too often in many films, and especially in romantic-comedies, the words seem at best fake and more often false. The conversations here between Cooper and Lawrence echo truth and reality over and over again. I attribute this to writer/director David O. Russell who has followed up his brilliant film “The Fighter” with this gem of a movie. (Russell also directed the nearly perfect “Three Kings.)”

Fourth, too many rom-coms are too sweet and too cute. This film deals with serious subjects: death, mental illness, adultery, grief, regret, anger, loss, just to name a few.  These very flawed characters successfully find their way into our hearts and that is why the film succeeds.

So even though I spent the last 20 minutes thinking, “I cannot believe the direction this film is going”, when it got there I was 100 percent satisfied. They got it right, even though I was sure they were going the wrong way.

“Silver Linings Playbook” is the best romantic comedy in three years, and certainly one of the two best (along with “500 Days)” of the 21st century thus far. It is a shining example of how good a romantic-comedy can be if talented people are making the film.