6 Pleasantly Surprising Things About Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook3 6 Pleasantly Surprising Things About Silver Linings Playbook

If there’s a dark horse with a real chance in this year’s Oscar race, it might just be Silver Linings Playbook. Now, everyone’s saying it’s going to be Argo because everyone loves Ben Affleck all of a sudden, or rather they always loved him and found all the hatred to be just SO UNFAIR and now that he has done things that aren’t absolutely terrible we’re therefore going to give him every award there is to give a person.

There are some who contend that Lincoln is still the pick to beat because it has the most nominations, it has the Spielberg factor, it has the Daniel Day-Lewis thing, and it has the topical advocacy aspect that if only government acted this way Obama would be able to save the country like Honest Abe did way back when. Hollywood has a tendency for delusions of grandeur.

The delusions portrayed in Silver Linings Playbook, though, are one of the many charms about the movie that help maintain its place in the awards conversations. Every now and then there comes a movie that is almost universally underestimated, from its premiere at TIFF to people who are still seeing it for the first time, thinking to themselves it can’t possibly be as good as everyone says, can it?

This movie is one that depends on the element of surprise in a way, so a surprise victory at the Oscars in less than a month’s time would be rather fitting. It’s appropriate because everything Pat and Tiffany do in the film is virtually unpredictable. It’s one of the defining features of mental illness. While many of these surprises may be unpleasant, the movie is ultimately a feel-good story, and an Oscar win would be the pinnacle of feel-good stories for a movie like this. Here are 6 other surprises that made Silver Linings Playbook so damn enjoyable for everyone.

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1: Bradley Cooper is a Good Actor

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Bradley Cooper has always been a bit of a mystery. On one hand, he’s the meathead who played Sack in Wedding Crashers and Phil in The Hangover, and on the other, he’s an Actors Studio-trained thespian with deep affection for The Elephant Man. And on a third, mutated hand, he’s Michael Ian Black’s lover in Wet Hot American Summer. The guy has just always been sort of rife with contradictions and a vague sense that maybe he’s a total douche but maybe he’s also a smart, sensitive, nice guy with actual talent. There hasn’t been a more definitive answer to the question ‘Who is Bradley Cooper?’ than in Silver Linings Playbook.

I’m not sure there are many other actors who could have played Pat, or at least they may not have made him this likeable. Cooper has the right kind of manic energy Pat requires but plays the delusions with such sweet sincerity and innocence that he becomes an endearingly sympathetic character instead of someone we’re meant to laugh at or see as just some crazy person. It’s necessary that he plays him this way because his tendency to cut straight through any sort of tactful BS needs to be refreshing, and it can only work if it seems genuine. It’s clear that Cooper is excited to finally get a screen character like Pat to play with, and should score him more freedom to choose similarly complicated roles he can devote his focus to.

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2: Robert De Niro’s Still Got It

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For years I only knew Robert De Niro as the Meet the Parents guy, a star of movies like The Score or Analyze This who had this enormous reputation that I didn’t quite understand. Then I saw all his work from the 70s and 80s, including his work with Martin Scorsese, and the extent to which he revolutionized acting like no one since Marlon Brando became crystal clear. Then the question switched from ‘What’s the big deal about this Robert De Niro guy?’ to ‘What the hell has this Robert De Niro guy been doing for these last 20 years?’

The truth is that he’s sort of always been solid, well into the 90s with Cape Fear, Heat, and Jackie Brown, and put in some fine work in the 2000s to get paid, but it would appear at this point in time that we’re on the brink of a potential De Niro resurgence, beginning with Silver Linings Playbook. His performance in this movie is off the charts, consisting of the trademark understated nature of a De Niro character in the way he shyly reveals some of his superstitions revolving around the Philadelphia Eagles, and the simultaneous propensity to let deep emotion slip out of that stiff and secretive facade. It’s a part he’s been long overdue for, and hopefully a trend that continues in the coming years and projects for him, because the man behind Jake La Motta and Rupert Pupkin and Jimmy Conway isn’t out of this thing yet.

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3: Jennifer Lawrence Has Staying Power

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She first caught the attention of moviegoers in 2010 with Winter’s Bone because she was able to pull off this young country girl who was a total badass in taking care of her family. Then her huge break came when she landed the role of Katniss Everdeen in the now insanely popular Hunger Games. The thing is, she was playing a very similar type to the role she played in Winter’s Bone: a young person in a relatively impoverished situation trying to look after her family in the absence of deadbeat parents, occasionally killing animals and eating them, and not taking crap from anyone in a position of authority.

Tiffany is very different, and Lawrence gets to make use of the same charisma that made Ree Dolly and Katniss so magnetic to a different effect in Silver Linings Playbook. She still speaks her mind to people meaning to talk down to her, but in this instance instead of doing so to provide for her sister, she’s just doing it because she’s a messed up girl looking to find her own peace of mind. Her previous work has also been considerably restrained—Ree and Katniss are characters who speak mostly through their actions and determination. Tiffany seems to be able to exude the kind of energy Jennifer Lawrence gives off in real life, which is nice to see.

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4: It’s Actually a Good Romantic Comedy

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Some attention leading up to the Academy Awards would be good for this movie, because it actually makes a really excellent Valentine’s Day feature. Most Valentine’s movies that get billed as romantic comedies end up being 5% comedic, 5% romantic, and 90% boring and cheesy. I know they make money but I’m convinced that no one actually likes them. People are just bored to varying degrees.

Still, I don’t think there has been a movie that fit (albeit somewhat unconventionally) under the rom-com label that has been this strong and well received since 500 Days of Summer, a vastly different movie but one that found its story and characters first, and then had its genre applied to it after the fact, rather than most movies of this type that do things in precisely the reverse order. Silver Linings Playbook is one of those bizarre comedies that you laugh at throughout, and by the end think to yourself, wait a minute…that was actually romantic! I’m a dude, how do I process this? The answer: embrace it, because although the label has come to define a movie marketed to women the same way cosmetics and clothes are, when a good product breaks through, it deserves to be celebrated.

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5: David O. Russell May Have Found His Groove Again

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This director was a hot indie commodity in the late 90s, finding his greatest success in Three Kings, which I should really re-watch since it’s been so long. Then it took him 5 years to release his divisive comedy I Heart Huckabees (I fall on the side that finds it brilliant and hilarious and possibly the best work Mark Wahlberg has ever done). Then, he took a 6-year hiatus, only to return with the smash hit The Fighter, a reunion with Wahlberg and the biggest success by far of Russell’s career.

Silver Linings Playbook marks a return to the prolific output Russell was once known for, coming 2 years after The Fighter, and he’s apparently working on a new project that could see a release at the end of this year. Not only is he producing these excellent works at a remarkable rate now, he’s speaking candidly and clearly in interviews about his desire to find emotional connections in his movies, something that may have been lacking in previous work, particularly Huckabees, which was one issues detractors had with it. There’s a tendency among film people to sort of raise one’s nose at movies that are dramatic and emotional rather than an intellectual exercise, but this snobbery is counterproductive to the creation of lasting art that people will find meaning in beyond studying it in a classroom vacuum.

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6: Chris Tucker is Still Around!

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If you thought you had seen the last of Chris Tucker on the silver screen, you were so wrong. This one-time (according to IMDb) highest paid actor in Hollywood has appeared only in Rush Hour movies since 1998, but his late 90s work, especially Jackie Brown, showed the promise of some genuinely unique talent. I have no idea where he went for the last 14 years and I don’t care to. In this film, he matches the tone of the piece perfectly. His little monologues about how he likes to keep his hair, this obsessive trait of his character, are at once both absurdly funny and kind of sad.

It’s little elements like this in Silver Linings Playbook that make it such a joy to watch, as audiences have found since its festival premiere. None of the parts seem all that impressive, but their collective sum is something special indeed. That’s why this movie is consistently underestimated: it seems like it won’t amount to all that much, but then it all comes together in such a beautifully handled conclusion, with many lovely touches along the way. It’s a tricky sort of thing. If Oscar wants to avoid awarding anything remotely controversial and just stick with a solid, delightful little movie that will sneak up and floor people, this is the one to choose. And if you haven’t seen it yet, prepare to be surprised.

Did you enjoy Silver Linings Playbook? Or are you an emotionless robot? Find your peace of mind in the comment section below.

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