09 November, 2012

Savannah: "Silver Linings Playbook" (*****)

Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in "Silver Linings Playbook"

The 15th annual Savannah Film Festival kicked off October 27th with "Silver Linings Playbook." I was in town for the entire festival, a spectacular eight days, and will be sharing plenty of reviews, pictures and recaps in the coming weeks.

If you are looking to attract some awards attention, bringing together recent Oscar nominees like David O. Russell, Jennifer Lawrence and Jacki Weaver might do the trick. Throw a living legend, say, Robert De Niro, into the mix and then add two box office stars like Bradley Cooper and Chris Tucker. You're potentially looking at a very big hit, both commercially and critically. "Silver Linings Playbook" lives up to every bit of its potential. Each piece of the sprawling cast is exceptional, with Cooper and Lawrence running away with the show. Lawrence, in particular, demonstrates how she has earned every bit of her phenomenal ascent to the top.

Until "Silver Linings Playbook," none of Russell's previous work had ever prompted me to think, 'this feels like a David O. Russell film.' This could simply be my failure to acknowledge a distinctive style, or it could be that he is finally stepping into 'auteur' territory. Looking back at his filmography, an individual brand can in fact be pretty clearly detected. "Silver Linings Playbook" has as much in common with "I Heart Huckabees" as it does "The Fighter." All three films possess wildly colorful characters, but "Linings" sits perfectly in the middle between the absurdity of "I Heart Huckabees" and the rowdy realism of "The Fighter". No characters are generalized; they are all fleshed out completely, in both the screenplay and through the performances.

Jacki Weaver and Robert De Niro star in "Silver Linings Playbook"
Russell and cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi ("Warrior," "The Grey") both go above and beyond to put you in the minds of our crazy leads, but the real story behind the movie is all about the acting. Cooper and Lawrence put forward two of the most honest, instinctive performances I've seen all year. Cooper owns every bit of his Pat Solitano, but Lawrence crushes the breath out of each scene. Even when she is away, her presence is felt. Robert De Niro is the best we've seen him in years and Jacki Weaver completely inhabits her role. Though she isn't given a big money scene, Weaver sinks deeper into her role than nearly everyone in the cast. She conveys more with a look or a pursed lip than most people can with a monologue. Chris Tucker, John Ortiz, Julia Stiles, Shea Whigham and Anupam Kher round out a stellar ensemble.

"Moonstruck" comes to mind when considering contemporaries of "Linings." While "Moonstruck" might now seem a bit dated, both films overflow with dynamic, detailed performances and feature crazy people complicating each other's lives. While the dramatic elements of the film are dense and finely tuned, "Silver Linings Playbook" is definitely a comedy. It's pretty rare for a non-Woody Allen or non-Coen Brothers comedy to do exceptionally well at the Academy Awards, but this film will likely earn a bounty of nominations come January. I fully expect it to play very well with critics groups and the Screen Actors Guild.

"Silver Linings Playbook" was the perfect opener for the Savannah Film Festival. Already the audience prize winner from Toronto, this film's all-star cast and emotional magnetism are going to soar with moviegoers this Thanksgiving and onward through the awards season.

5 out of 5 stars.

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