Ciara O’Brien heralds Silver Linings Playbook as part of our Oscar 2013 Best Film countdown…
There are often two types of film we find nestled in the category of Best Feature Film each year during Oscar season. Firstly there are the massive heavy hitters we hear about consistently over the course of the year. These are the movies that are hot-tipped for award-season success before they even hit our screens. Then there are the other films, those that seem to have slipped through the radar almost unnoticed until they are read out as nominations and we take notice. It might be the wallflower in me emerging, but this is often where I find my all-time favorites and this year’s Silver Linings Playbook falls into the latter category. This movie may be smaller in scale than the others but it is no less an incredible cinematic experience than the other films in the Best Picture line-up for this year’s Oscars.
Based upon Matthew Quick’s novel of the same name, the story follows Pat (Bradley Cooper) who, having just been released from a mental institution remains curiously upbeat about his life. Pat believes that his happiness depends his own ability to repair his relationships with his estranged wife and his somewhat overbearing family. From the outset we realize that Pat’s family’s eccentricities are enough to drive anyone insane, but luckily for Pat he is nothing if not strong-willed and single-minded in his desire to do anything necessary (even exercising) to win back the affections of his wife. Pat eventually and somewhat unwillingly befriends fellow socially awkward outcast Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), but her support comes at a price that will hurtle him into an unexpected hobby.
Both Lawrence and Cooper are incredible here and earn their Oscar nominations within the first few seconds they share on screen. Somehow both actors turn what is ordinarily a tough and awkward topic into a charming story charged with chemistry and- dare I say it- fun. Here we have the perfect romantic mix, with Cooper appearing to be the tough guy, but hiding a fractured softening core and Lawrence looking as soft and pretty as ever hiding a character who is all hard edges and toughness. They create the perfect balance and manage to keep the audience guessing- no small feat giving the onslaught of obvious rom-com drama that appears on our screens each year.
Naturally, Quick’s excellent novel provides the skeleton around which the story moves but this is one example of how something extraordinary can occur in the translation from page to screen as David O. Russell structures the entire narrative around the two main loves of our protagonists: The Philadelphia Eagles and dance. It is in this way that the story manages to hold its pace throughout and never fades away into that drawn out agony that so often destroys the world of the movie.
What, on paper would seem like a screwball comedy caper meeting between two individuals on the cusp of desperation is transformed into Oscar-worthy fare that leaves its mark on the audience long after they leave the theatre. I must admit that any movie that boasts Robert Di Niro in a supporting role is destined to inexplicably win my vote, but thankfully this movie had me sold long before he was introduced, and I defy anyone not to be equally immediately charmed.
There are plenty of films that deal with mental illness, and still more that deal with burgeoning friendships and the possibility of rediscovering lost love, but it is incredibly rare that it be done so well. Silver Linings Playbook could equally be named ‘love in the age of mental illness’ and is essential viewing, regardless of the name pulled out of that infamous golden envelope on 24th February.