Romantic comedies. Just saying those two words can make people squinch their face in disgust. They're formulaic, sophomoric and predictable. But every once in a while, a great one comes around. It's been happening since the dawn of cinema. "It Happened One Night," "Some Like It Hot," and more recently, "As Good As It Gets." The new romantic comedy starring Jennifer Lawrence, "Silver Linings Playbook," can be added to that list of outstanding movies.
Pat, played by Bradley Cooper, is having a hard time in life. He's recently been released from a mental hospital, where he was sent for beating up a man with whom his wife was having an affair. But Pat is trying to get his life back on track. He's going to win his wife back, get his job as an English teacher back, and make a new beginning. He just has to find the silver linings around his troubles along the way. His plan in upset by Tiffany, in an amazing performance by Jennifer Lawrence. Mark my words. She will win the Oscar for this. Tiffany, it seems, is just as crazy as Pat. She's outspoken, rude and incorrigible, which makes her chemistry with Pat all the more fun to watch.
The performances here are outstanding. Everyone has been more than deserving of the accolades they've received. I can't remember the last time I've seen Robert De Niro give a performance this good. His character is infuriating, but gentle and loving. Jacki Weaver is a lesser known actress, but has received praise for her earlier role in "Animal Kingdom." Her character is heartbreaking, yet she plays it with a sort of resiliency.
I'm slowly becoming of a fan of director David O. Russell's work and may begin to anticipate it as much as I do Paul Thomas Anderson and Todd Solondz. For the second time in a row, Russell has created an amazing character study, like he did with "The Fighter" in 2010. There are still a lot of other films by him I'm looking forward to discovering.
Among the comedy it provides, "Playbook" makes an interesting comment on the nature of mental illness. Watching Pat's interaction with his family, specifically his father, suggests that mental illness happens in the mind and is exacerbated by your surroundings. It's actually sad watching these scenes - seeing the pattern that can't be figured out and the chain that can't be unbroken.
In terms of an awards contender, I'd say "Silver Linings Playbook" is the frontrunner. It's a fun flick with its own dark themes and is unencumbered by the heavy handedness of other films, like "Lincoln," which seems to be the only thing standing in its way. I could even see there being a split with "Lincoln" taking best director and "Playbook" taking home best picture. Only time will tell.
The only thing I know for sure is "Playbook" will not soon be forgotten. It will go down in history as a measuring stick for all the great comedies that will come after it. It's smart, scary, funny and sexy. And it's got heart. It embraces what it is and allows us to go on a ride with it.