For a film with such big stars, David O Russell's screwball masterpiece has been a slow-burner â" but easily deserves its No 4 spot in the year's best films
Next month, the BFI Southbank begins a big season of screwball comedies. It's not a genre much in vogue at the moment â" instead, we've got the hots for romcoms that are either all kook or flat-out naff. But the BFI's programme just got topical, because along came Silver Linings Playbook, David O Russell's new screwball masterpiece. With an emphasis on the screwy.
Yet for a film that stars Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro, as well being an official crowdpleaser (it took the audience award at Toronto), it's been a curious slow-burner. Silver Linings Playbook opened three weeks ago in the UK and US, and has so far taken $20m (Â£12.4m). With that cast. With those accolades. With the Weinsteins behind it. Why?
There's that title, for a start: baffling unless you're an American sports nut. (The UK distributors have all but redacted "Playbook" from the posters.) The sticky sell that almost all the characters suffers some sort of mental instability â" not just our leads (bipolar Pat, prone to violent wobbles; still-grieving, too-frank Tiffany), but the peripherals, also. De Niro, as Pat's dad, channeling his OCD into Philadelphia Eagles fandom; Chris Tucker as a hair-fixated loon; John Ortiz's superficially vanilla family man screaming within.
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But the accuracy or otherwise of these conditions is a red herring. What we have here is just your regular Russell arena of families racketing around, scrapping and colliding, filters off, hackles up. This is film-making with zero tolerance for flab or indulgence; scratchy and macho, aggressive and abrasive, yet still as brimful of real feeling as it is apparently uncaring what you make of it. The camera ducks and dives with the action, right in your face, smarting as it charms.
That's not always the nicest sensation, and it's possible it might have knocked the wind from Silver Linings's box-office sails. For those who liked The Fighter, this could have come as a bit of a schlocker. Those approaching from the Hangover angle might too have been stopped in their tracks. Yet I'd still recommend this film to everyone and anyone. With some movies, you can't do otherwise. You fall for them, you root for them. Simple.David O RussellRomanceComedyFilm adaptationsCatherine Shoard
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