With two films in two years he’s taken a leaf out of Terrence Malick’s playbook, only in a far more multiplex-friendly way.
Having emerged from the Toronto Film Festival with the Audience Award in tow (beating Ben Affleck’s front-runner Argo), Silver Linings Playbook is poised to become this autumn’s most crowd-pleasing comedy-drama – thanks to its feisty, feel-good romance, triumph-over-mental-adversity theme and two of the hottest stars around right now, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence.
Cooper plays Pat Solitano, a bipolar sufferer freshly sprung from a state institution where he’d been banged up for eight months after knocking out a work colleague he found banging his wife (Brea Bee).
Moving back into his dysfunctional family home with parents Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver, Pat finds rebuilding his life isn’t that simple, especially as his social filter is clogged and his anger management leaves something to be desired.
Fortunately, there’s a ‘hilarious’ Indian psychiatrist (Anupam Kher), colourful inmate buddy (Chris Tucker, emerging from semi-retirement and brightening Playbook with every appearance) and a difficult but delectable young widow (Lawrence) to soothe his fevered brow.
At a certain point, Playbook’s audience-ingratiating elements begin to, well, grate.
Russell’s script whisks together sports-team obsessions, ballroom dancing and home-made Italian cooking, along with a splash of spicy mental struggle (but not too much!) and some of the cutest darn kooks that you ever did see (De Niro’s played-for-laughs OCD gets especially exhausting).
But looking on the bright side (one of the life lessons taught here), Cooper and Lawrence do generate terrific chemistry.
The former doesn’t dip too deeply into his character’s dark side, but neither does he flinch when the time comes to expose a few ugly truths.
But it’s our Hunger Gamesheroine who gives SLP its kick and watchability, her sullen, stalker-ish Tiffany offering much-needed salvation both to Pat and the viewer.
Russell follows The Fighter with a softer, soapier family dysfunction drama, lightly comic enough to make for palatable Friday-night viewing. As its nutty lovebirds, Cooper and Lawrence save Playbook from the director’s surprisingly mundane impulses.