Silver Linings Playbook — 5/10

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012, David O. Russell): 5/10

Russell is such a frustrating guy sometimes. There are so many good things to say about this film, yet it’s not very good at all. I just think that because the guy is so diverse in his subject matter, his directing style is less about the material than himself. Whether he’s doing an Iraq war film with THREE KINGS, a frantic farce a la FLIRTING WITH DISASTER (still my favorite of his movies), or a boxing drama with THE FIGHTER, he lends it the same tone — restlessly moving camera, manic with energy and combustible with drama. But here, that tone is so at odds with the story — or at least it should be.

If he can do a great comedy and a serviceable sports redemption drama, then why doesn’t he just go for a straightforward love story? If he did, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK might have worked. Instead, he ratchets up the thing with shrill, piercing scene after shrill, piercing scene. And it’s all so that he can finally arrive at the great Moral of the Story: that love cures bi-polar disorder. Blech.

Yet despite how wrong-headed it is, I love to watch his camera move, and I love that he keeps putting these two leads on roads together for their big conversations. They’re not on sofas or on telephones — he has them either running (literally), or on streets with motion — a lot of day exteriors. And the one sit-down chat they have, a diner scene that ends in another explosion, is made up almost exclusively of two super tight over-the-shoulders beautifully framed and extremely well acted (especially by J-Law, looking as radiant as ever here). So it isn’t like Russell can’t direct — he just can’t modulate. And here he gets great performances, even from Robert DeNiro, now banished to holiday family films, wacky comedies, and shitty thrillers ever since he stopped working with Scorsese — this is some of his best work in ages. And the climactic dance competition scene and its fallout work like gangbusters — but unfortunately, the fact that those sequences are so good just underscores why the rest of it is frustratingly wrong: just play it by the book, David, and calm the fuck down, and you’ve got a great little movie on your hands. Shame, really. (But the crowd ate it up, so this should be a hit).

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