George Clooney once branded director David O. Russell “insane to the point of stupidity”, but there’s nothing stupid about the filmmaker’s (often literally) insane ninth feature film. Dealing with crazy-making matters of the heart and mind, it’s a rom-com with fangs that runs like the clappers and, yes, has serious bite.
Much of that comes in the form of buzzing interplay between stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. A bouncing ball of nervous energy, Cooper’s a million miles away from Hangover-land, turning in a career-making performance as recovering mental patient Pat – who’s just been jacked out of the clinic where he was recuperating after losing his shit over his wife’s cheating ways.
With not an overplayed twitch or sentimental spasm in sight, Cooper’s a revelation – raw, searing and impossible not to watch. Where the screen really fizzles, though, is when he’s trading no-nonsense insults with the similarly wacky Lawrence, whose Tiffany has her own shopping list of problems (she’s getting over the death of her husband). These are two people you should never put in a room together, which is of course why they make such riveting viewing when they are.
That Cooper manages to submerse himself so fully in Pat’s world is impressive enough, but even more remarkable is Lawrence’s ability to match and even surpass him. Sharp, brittle, seductive, it’s her most accomplished performance since Winter’s Bone – and not once do you mistake her for Katniss Everdeen.
None of this would work without Russell, whose script – based on Matthew Quick’s book – is as blunt as its two leads and often genuinely, unexpectedly moving. Visually, he keeps his framing loose, the lighting naturalistic (think The Fighter). As Cooper also clashes with pap Robert De Niro (fantastic) and mom Jacki Weaver (perpetually terrified), Russell gives the characters ample room to breathe. It’s an approach that really ramps up the tension – along with some killer song choices – and, yes, there’s even one of Russell’s trademark snapback camera moves, here as effective as ever.
Ignore the clunky title (it hasn’t got much to do with the movie). Though a third act dip prevents Silver Linings Playbook from delivering as a bona fide classic, it contains so many laugh-out-loud, disarmingly honest moments you can’t help but be swept along for the ride. Dizzying as a merry-go-round and about as over-sentimental as an IKEA catalogue, it’s a crowd-pleaser from top to bottom. And just on the right side of crazy. 4/5