by Matt Juniper
Traditionally, the Toronto International Film Festival has served as a launching pad for films, giving them the boost required to get through the bloated awards season and emerge victorious, or stop them dead in their tracks. Lovers of film will wait to find out whether the next Best Picture winner has debuted at TIFF, but the debut of Silver Linings Playbook has certainly served to launch something: the next chapter in the careers of stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence.
Up to this point Cooper has been a one-dimensional actor, seemingly destined to roam from one b-list comedy to another for eternity. That he would be working with two acclaimed directors in two of the most highly anticipated films of TIFF caught a number of people by surprise (Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond The Pines being the other).
Lawrence on the other hand, stunned audiences in her Academy Award nominated turn in Winter’s Bone. While her follow up in The Hunger Games brought her worldwide fame, it still remained to be seen if the promise shown in Winter’s Bone would once again emerge under more capable screenwriting. Both entered the Toronto Film Festival with all critics’ eyes on them and major questions to be answered.
The answer to those questions comes quickly as both stars absolutely shine under the capable watch and guidance of director David O. Russell, fresh off his acclaimed boxing drama, The Fighter. While the monster performances from each of the Fighter’s four leads overshadowed Russell’s skill set there were strong signs of Russell’s potential for those willing to look close enough. The power of the film was not in the magnetic Oscar-grabbing performance by Christian Bale, but in the subtle scenes of flawed romance between Mark Wahlberg and Amy Adams. In those few scenes, Russell hinted at his greatest talent: his ability to breathe realism and life into characters and scenes in a way that is rarely seen in modern Hollywood, where the greatest filmmakers are focused much more on perfecting the technical aspects of their craft.
Take those moments of magic from The Fighter and expand them into a full feature film without sacrificing any of the quality and you have Silver Linings Playbook. Cooper stars as Pat Solitano, a bi-polar former school teacher who has recently been deinstitutionalized after a violent episode involving his wife’s lover. A broken man determined to turn his life around through the power of positivity, Solitano begins the search for the silver linings that infiltrate even the darkest moments in life. His journey to wellness (or at least to stability) and his ultimate goal of winning back the affection of his wife are thrown a curve ball in the form of Jennifer Lawrence’s recently widowed character Tiffany. From that moment the film’s plot rolls out in front of us like a roadmap. It may be conventional, but I wouldn’t dare call it cliché and seemingly neither would my fellow TIFF attendees, who laughed, applauded and even shed a few tears along with the characters on screen.
The film is entirely without gimmicks – it has been described as a romantic comedy and despite the stigma around the genre, it’s hard to argue with that tag. Luckily the film is such a crowd-pleaser even the most cynical of critics will likely be won over before they have time to process that they have fallen for a dreaded Rom-Com.
The film took the People’s Choice award at TIFF and it is hard to imagine that being the last award the film takes home. Lawrence already has her name being tossed around for an award, but it would be unfair not to include Cooper in those talks, as surreal as that may have felt just a few weeks ago. De Niro and Weaver also deserve mention here for heartfelt and touching performances as both the cause and solution to many of Cooper’s character’s eccentricities.
Lastly, one can only hope that Russell’s subtle style of direction won’t be forgotten among the flashier work of directors such as Paul-Thomas Anderson. He had a rough ride as rumors of his poor on-set demeanor led to a six-year career hiatus. If the Fighter saw him hop back in the ring, Silver Linings Playbook is his knock out punch.
For more information on Silver Linings Playbook, visit silverliningsplaybookmovie.com.