It's the story of the prodigal son in a sports-obsessed working-class family, returning home and attempting to rebuild his life while evading the demands of an overbearing, boisterous extending clan. It may sound like The Fighter, director David O. Russell's welcome back into the Hollywood fold after a couple of rather public controversies; in actual fact, it's Silver Linings Playbook, his follow-up to that Oscar-winning hit masterminded by star Mark Wahlberg. The new film adapts Matthew Quick's novel into a skewed romantic comedy whose plot does in fact work as a dead ringer of The Fighter, down to the familial cocoon that pushes the "hero" to struggle against it. Mr. Russell substitutes American football for boxing, Philadelphia for the Boston exurbs, and mental illness for drug addiction - the film's hero, Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper), is a bipolar substitute teacher just out of a lengthy stay in a mental hospital but still obsessing about recapturing the wife he scared away with his jealous antics.

     This being a David O. Russell film, everything in it is amped up to eleven into a sort of surreal, hysterical take on screwball comedy, with the tale's mental-illness and sports-nut background giving the writer/director freedom to exercise his talent for perfectly controlled out-of-control rants. But this being a David O. Russell film, it's pretty much an actor's piece as well, since it's where the director's strengths lie, with Mr. Cooper finally getting a chance to do something beyond his usual comedy shtick, and Jennifer Lawrence proving yet again why she is one of the best young American actresses of the moment as Tiffany, the young widow with whom Pat bonds. The remainder of the blue-chip cast, though, remains sorely underused (Jacki Weaver and Robert de Niro as Pat's parents have little to nothing to do), while, for all of the raucous energy and offbeat humour of the tale, Silver Linings Playbook is at its core a rather simple, sweet tale about getting back on your own two feet.

     It's precisely the film that a young director should make to find a way into the Hollywood mainstream - a gently offbeat all-star comedy; not much of an ambition, true, but it's amiable, cheerful, often funny and generally surprising, even if not deserving of the cascade of Oscar nominations it has received.

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert de Niro, Jacki Weaver, Anupam Kher, Chris Tucker

Director: David O. Russell
Screenplay: Mr. Russell, from the novel by Matthew Quick, The Silver Linings Playbook
Cinematography: Masanobu Takayanagi  (colour, widescreen)
Music: Danny Elfman
Designer: Judy Becker
Costumes: Mark Bridges
Editors: Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers
Producers: Donna Gigliotti, Bruce Cohen, Jonathan Gordon (The Weinstein Company)
USA, 2012, 122 minutes

Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo Alvaláxia 1 (Lisbon), January 3rd 2013


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