2013’s Academy Award’s Best Picture category has an insane 9 nominees.
To be honest, I’ve really only seen three of them.
One of them is the clear underdog, “Silver Lining’s Playbook.”
The Bradley Cooper vehicle is rife with missteps, from a poor script to a premise that is relatively overwrought.
And yet, it’s one hell of a movie.
David Russell, (or the moniker David O. Russell as he prefers to go by) of “The Fighter” fame, directs this comedy-drama that deals heavily with a man overcoming mental illness and societal responsibilities for the disabled.
David Russell has a history of on-set spats, including the time he screamed at the sweet, sunshine blessed face of Lily Tomlin and a hilarious recounting of the time he sucker punched George Clooney and received a prompt ass-whooping in return.
So needless to say, David Russell doesn’t typically seem to get the best of the actors he is directing.
That really isn’t the case in “Silver Lining’s Playbook.”
The plot surrounds Patrick “Pat Jr.” Solitano, (Cooper) an Italian born ruffian who is trying to get his life back together after beating his wife’s lover nearly to death. He meets Tiffany Maxwell (a near flawless Jennifer Lawrence) who has her own mental demons to deal with as well. The two do the classic romantic comedy tango, stepping from friends to lovers to enemies to lovers again.
But Russell manages to seriously avoid any type of cliché that this romantic comedy seems to exhibit. Instead, he thrives on the performances of Lawrence and Cooper (Lawrence, who recently won a Golden Globe for her performance really should win the Academy Award as well) as well as smartly shot scenes of realistic interaction.
Every scene opens up like it is being shot just long enough to get the perfect mix of awkward realism and breathtaking narrative.
The most obvious example of this is a scene in which Lawrence is convincing the gambling addicted Solitano Sr. (De Niro) that Pat Jr. would be better off with her during Eagles games in order to convince the proverbial “gambling gods” for them to win.
The scene narrowly sidesteps the awkwardness of a train colliding with a bike messenger (you know he doesn’t stand a chance, but can’t look away) by utilizing realistic character acting from veterans De Niro and Paul Herman to lift the possibly soul crushing cliché scene to amusingly realistic.
The movie is great.
And yet, many people will find it derivative.
But they will be missing the point.
The performances aren’t viscerally emotional and they aren’t heartbreakingly sad.
But they aren’t supposed to be.
That isn’t the point of this movie.
“Silver Lining’s Playbook” isn’t a movie that will make you think about life, love and loss. So it shouldn’t win the Academy Award for Best Picture. That’s obvious.
But it does accomplish its goal: to make the cinema a safe haven. To provide 122 minutes of escapism, where people walk into the theater to mute the mundane tediousness of their lives. To, for a brief two hours, settle in and watch what movies were always about:
Not societal disenfranchisement.
Not a war run-amok, rife with torture and dismemberment.
And not even a throwback tale to the “O Holy yesteryears.”
But really, to just provide a brief respite from the pains of real-life.