‘Playbook’ uses instability as an excuse for histrionics
Silver Linings Playbook never lacks for energy, as the abrasive new romantic comedy finds discomforting laughs by poking fun at people unable to control their own overactivity.
Writer-director David O. Russell works from Matthew Quick’s novel about a man with bipolar disorder, an often irresistible cinematic wild card allowing directors and actors to indulge in extremes.
Russell shamelessly steers his overstimulated characters through a series of artificial disasters, situations and confrontations. The director finds drama once again from grating sequences filled with unbalanced combative characters, just as he has in many of his films, such as 2010’s The Fighter and 2004’s I Heart Huckabees. Reportedly, Russell’s aborted project Nailed would have probed similar ground.
The allure to actors of playing such characters as those found in Silver Linings is apparent, as they receive license to cover a wide range of emotions without appearing contradictory. But they can seem artificially contrived, as does Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), who leaves a Baltimore mental facility after eight months of incarceration because of erratic violent behavior.
He returns to Philadelphia to live under a court order with his doting mother (Australian marvel Jacki Weaver) and his Philadelphia Eagles-obsessed father, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro). The father’s constant football-themed rants and the son’s immediate refusal to take medication conveniently shove the dramatics into confrontational territory.
The obligatory romantic element arrives in the form of Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), another medication-taking wild card who happens to be the younger sister of Pat’s estranged wife. A movie-cute romance develops despite its obvious contrivance, not to mention that he’s 15 years older and they seem to have no chemistry, or anything at all, between them.
Russell prolongs his narrative with a series of sequences that don’t add up to much besides emphasizing that these characters are all flawed beings capable of consistent inconsistency.
The fact that the film’s grand climax lies on, first, a dance contest, and then, the outcome of an Eagles-Cowboys football game, is indicative of the overall vacuity.
For their part, the actors adequately perform their showy parts, delivering rapid speeches with overlapping dialogue. It’s not their fault they are asked to go overboard making fun of people with an illness.
Silver Linings Playbook
Rated R, 122 minutes.
Opened Wednesday at regional theaters.