Mental illness in film is considerably difficult to manage correctly. Think back to other alumni of The Hangover, and how they’ve tried to present the ricochet of depression, anxiety and a cavalcade of cycles needing to be broken. It’s A Kind of Funny Story was a sour-tasting mess helmed by Zach Galifianakis, its broad strokes comparatively dangerous when compared to the Bradley Cooper-led Silver Linings Playbook. A solid film as flawed as its leading character, director David O. Russel’s career peak is a mixed bag of respect, remorse and the importance of family, seasoned with just a hint of breeziness to its story.
O. Russell’s direction is devoid of thought. Random zooms to characters, assuming that the closer we are to the cast member spatially, the closer we are to them intimately. Other shots provide static nothingness, moments where emotive punches should be found. Their absence is stark, but Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence makes do with the material he’s provided. The trope of bringing two troubled souls together as they rely on one another is something we’ll have all seen before, and stretching it to two hours shows the signs of a staggered story on its last legs. Silver Linings Playbook is coming apart at the seams, its happenstance nature undermines the value of its performances. Writing from O. Russell that doesn’t bring out anything special or fascinating, it just works, and that’s better than nothing.
Pangs of awkward sentimentalism can be forgiven because, at its core, there is an assiduous tone to the screenplay. Side-lining De Niro and Jacki Weaver as simple support beams for Cooper and Lawrence to swing for the awards hype. Chris Tucker too, in a rare appearance outside of his Rush Hour palace, makes for solid comfort, promoting that unique charm of his wherever possible. Competent performances around the place, but the scripts odd reliance on football and ridiculous coincidence undermines the healing of our leading man, whose closest friends and family toy with his emotional state just to win big. Painted as proud cohorts, the reality is a stagnant manipulation written up by Russell to conform to his lacklustre abilities behind the camera.
At the core of it all, though, it’s hard to knock Silver Linings Playbook too much. It has a relatively earnest heart to it, and there’s no denying its genuine feelings toward moving on and developing yourself. We’ll all have our silver linings, and as much as Russell drills that into our brains with its repeated use and hammy dialogue, he does have a point, and makes it well. Not the most appetising or weighty of films, but a light pop at what makes this decaying genre tick. Big budgets, huge stars, and relevant competence all round.