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Saturday, January 12, 2013

Silver Linings Playbook: Cooper Outacts DeNiro in Grating, Sometimes Endearing Film

"Silver Linings Playbook" is a grating, occasionally endearing and humorous portrait of a bipolar misfit attempting to create a livable life after his release from a court-mandated stay in a mental institution. Pat (Bradley Cooper) chases his wife, unseen for most of the film. She has a fulltime job as a high school English teacher. Pat has no job and lives in his parents' attic. His parents, Robert DeNiro and Jacki Weaver (whom I thought was Sally Struthers) are themselves no prize winners. Dad is an obsessive compulsive football fan and gambler who insists that his son Pat must sit next to him during games while holding a green handkerchief in order for his team, the Philadelphia Eagles, to win. Mom cooks and whines a lot.

Pat meets Tiffany, a very, very hot young widow. She falls in love with him at first sight, but he resists her, because he wants to get back with his wife.

The best reason to see this film is Bradley Cooper's performance. He is terrific as a man with limited cards playing them the best way he knows how, given his limited awareness, abilities and options. Your heart aches for him. He often behaves in outrageous, indeed, illegal ways, but his insanity is an expression of real sanity in a couple of scenes. He vehemently rejects Ernest Hemingway's decisions in "Farewell to Arms" and he rescues his brother from racist thugs.

The movie as a whole failed to take flight for me. I found the main characters to be too grating, and I needed a respite or an artistic intervention that would make their qualities more bearable. There was an opportunity for that. Tiffany is a dancer, and she and Pat train to compete in a dance contest. After lengthy, detailed scenes of ugly, irrational and loud familial manipulations, false hope, and dysfunction, I could have used some well-presented music and dance. The director doesn't take advantage of that, though, and the film just squats there, annoying the audience. The film's end is less a resolution and more of a "we're out of time here so let's wrap things up."

Jennifer Lawrence is spectacularly beautiful, and very young. She's fifteen years younger than Cooper and far too young to be convincing as a grieving widow. She is costumed in skintight leggings and bratops that emphasize her long, slim legs and considerable frontal and posterior assets. Her skin is flawless.

I could did not, for one second, believe this vision of health and loveliness to be a desperate, medicated, marginal, screwed up, nymphomaniac widow. I believed her to be exactly what she was – eye candy positioned to keep male viewers' eyes on the screen, no less than a playboy bunny or a cheerleader. A woman closer to Cooper's age, a woman who shows the knocks that life can leave on a person (as scruffy Cooper does) would have been more believable but less commercial. Given the very commercial choice to go with a gorgeous young woman and to parade her assets in every scene, the movie seemed less true, less daring than it thinks of itself as being.

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