Friday, January 25, 2013

Film Review: David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook

After he finished watching David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook, a friend of mine called it a chick flick for guys.  I suppose, that is one way of looking at it.  Here's another.  Russell's adaptation of Matthew Quick's best selling novel, is an audience pandering, cliché-addled, overlong, even at barely just two hours, achingly middle-of-the-road attempt at being quirky and funny and, ultimately poignant.  In other words, a fail.  Perhaps not an epic fail, for there are still things to like about the film, but a fail nonetheless.  Director Russell began his directorial career, back in 1994, with the Sundance hit and Independent Spirit Award winner, Spanking the Monkey.  The film - an acerbic black comedy about incest and masturbation - showed great promise for its budding director.  Ever since this debut, Russell's films have become increasingly less edgy, and increasingly more mainstream, finally becoming replete with a typical mainstream mundane attitude - or perhaps saying lack of attitude would be more apropos.   

Following a career that went, after Spanking the Monkey, from the early days of the funny Flirting With Disaster (one of Ben Stiller's few enjoyable films) and the satirical Three Kings (probably the director's best film), to the mediocrity that was I Heart Huckabees (a mere Wes Anderson wannabe) and the sheep-in-wolf's-clothing that was 2010's Oscar winner The Fighter (outside of a brilliant performance by Christian Bale, the film was trite and expected), comes the director's least edgy film yet - and such a claim is made even more palpable by the fact that Russell, much like in The Fighter, seems to believe himself to be just as edgy here as ever.  The main problem here, as is the case with most mainstream films, is that nothing ever surprises.  At no point during this film, which incidentally is about a man getting out of the mental ward, after being locked up for beating up his wife's lover, and having to go back home to live in his childhood home, was I ever surprised at what a character does.  At no point, did I ever say, "Wow, I did not see that coming."  Granted, once you have seen as many films as this critic has - five digits, easily - that moment of surprise comes less and less easily with each passing year, but here, the by-the-book mechanizations of narrative storytelling get especially heavy handed indeed.

Granted, Russell's film is a fail, but, as I more than alluded to earlier, it is not an epic fail.  The thing that keeps this inexplicably well-awarded film from, as they say, stinkin' up the joint, are the performances handed in by its leads - Jennifer Lawrence, and especially, or at least more surprisingly, Bradley Cooper.  Lifting themselves above the trite material, Cooper and Lawrence do a fine job showing crazy, without ever going overboard on it.  But even these quite nuanced performances cannot save an otherwise mediocre work such as this.  Sure, the film is, in no way, something to include on anyone's worst of the year lists, but in an even more troublesome scenario, the film just aches of a staid pedestrianism - which in my book, is a much worse fate than being truly bad, or even rotten.  To finish my review off with yet another reiteration of a theme - something Russell's film does in veritable spades, yeah, we get it, you want to be a better person - Silver Linings Playbook is mere middlebrow folderol, made popular by the mainstream moviegoer's desire to see unthreatening, unoriginal and ultimately uninspired stories.  Sure, newly-minted Oscar nominees Cooper and Lawrence keep things going as best they can - Bobby D. and Jacki Weaver are along for a pair of Oscar nominated rides as well, but in no stand-out kind of way - but the quirk and edge of Russell's earlier films is just, as Kansas would say, dust in the wind.


joel said...

Ya you nailed it: mediocrity and its most mediocre. And the fact that was nominates anywhere on the ballot (I wasn't really impressed by either performance) says something very sad about Hollywood.

Kevyn Knox said...

I did like both Cooper and Lawrence. Not enough that I would've voted for them if I were in the Academy, but still. Right now, a lot of people are giving Lawrence the edge of Chastain in the Best Actress race. Hope that is not true.