TIFF 2012 – Silver Linings Playbook Review (Dustin SanVido)

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Julia Stiles, and Chris Tucker

Directed by David O. Russell

Being a self-confessed football junkie, I have eagerly anticipated the latest film from David O. Russell, if not simply for the fact that the subject matter is something that I could easily relate to. To my surprise, I found so much to enjoy in The Silver Linings playbook that had nothing to do with the subject of football. Boasting strong performances from the entire cast (yes, that includes Chris Tucker), a perfectly written and assuredly directed feature from David O. Russell that falls in line with his best work.

We’re introduced to Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper in a career defining performance) as he’s being released from a psychiatric facility in Baltimore into the care of his loving mother Delores (Jackie Weaver) and football obsessed father Pat Sr. (Robert DeNiro), who reside in Philadelphia. Philadelphia Eagles football is a cornerstone of the Solitano family, it is not only enjoyed for sport but also as Pat Sr. makes a modest living as a bookmaker. We learn that 8 months ago Pat had an explosion of violence in his home after discovering his wife’s infidelity, and as a plea bargain to avoid jail time, admitted himself into the care of said facility. Pat has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and it shows early and often. Pat is a complete mess, obsessively fixated on returning home and picking up his life where he left off. While reconnecting with his family and friends he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawerence), a widow who is avoiding the pain and emotions of her situation by masking her problems with sexual promiscuity. It is in Pats’ delusions of rekindling his marriage where a friendship between the two psychologically torn individuals is born and where the majority of the film takes place. This is not only a romantic comedy, but also a genuinely engaging story of one man’s personal redemption and discovery of self-worth.

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

This was the second performance from Bradley Cooper I have seen at this year’s festival and I was happy to see his potential begin to be realized. I have always liked him since I saw him all those days ago as a student on several iterations of Inside the Actors Studio. Here he is completely believable as a man who is barely grasping his reality and is unwilling to let go of his failed marriage, trying to fit it into the context of whatever situation he finds himself in. Bi-Polar disorder is a tremendously difficult illness to live with and one that is sometimes easily dismissed. Cooper’s realization of the illness is a strange mix of sadness, humour, rage, manic energy, and comic wit. I can also use that exact description to define the performance of Jennifer Lawerence. This is another fantastic role for the actress who is quickly ascending the Hollywood ranks through an eclectic mix of difficult indie roles and mainstream to blockbuster fare. Her excellent dramatic skills are only bested by her cagey and beautifully innocent looks. This seems like it has another Oscar nomination written all over it.

It is with the utmost happiness that I can inform you, not only did Robert Deniro seem to actually try to act with enthusiasm in Silver Linings Playbook, instead of traversing the script on cruise control, but his scenes are the best part of the film. The majority of the emotional moments for Pat in the story are shared with his father, and it is endearing to watch as Pat Sr. tries to reconnect with his son the only way he knows how, through their mutual love of football. In fact, football plays an important role in the narrative as many set pieces take place around the fact that an Eagles game is being played, or at Lincoln Financial Stadium for a wonderful scene later in the film. It is very telling to me that I enjoyed this film so much, considering the team featured in the film is the bitter rival of my beloved Dallas Cowboys.

Silver Linings Playbook is also filled with likable yet flawed supporting characters provided by the rest of the cast. Everyone from Pat’s psychiatrist (Anupam Kehr) to Tiffany’s sister Veronica (Julia Stiles) to Pat’s fellow mental patient Danny (Chris Tucker in his best performance since Baumont Livingston in Jackie Brown), everyone has a moment to shine and leave a strong impression that resonates throughout the runtime.

This is easily David O. Russell’s least stylized and most accessible film to date. I was quite happy that he seemed to want to be more faithful to the source material and hold back on bringing the material into his kind of film, although not without including some of his well documented zoom shots. Continuing to overcome his behind the scenes notoriety as a difficult artist to work with, his latest film is a excellent addition to an already great body of work.

Although it is clear by the end a romantic story is at the heart of Silver Linings Playbook, the film manages to strike a perfect balance of drama and humour that just about anyone can find something to love, much like its characters. It is rare that a romance unfolding over such a short time can be so organic and believable. Bravo to the filmmakers. This is a film that I look forward to revisiting in the future, I highly recommend checking this one out. Upon finishing this review it left me to wonder: the last time this David O. Russell made a romantic comedy (Flirting with Disaster), he followed it up with Three Kings, a film I consider a masterwork. I wonder what’s next on the horizon…

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TIFF 2012 – The Place Beyond the Pines Review (Matt Hodgson)

Photo from http://www.tiff.net

The Place Beyond the Pines (2012)

Starring Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Rose Byrne, Ray Liotta, Dane DeHaan, Bruce Greenwood, Ben Mendelsohn, Emory Cohen, and Mahershala Ali

Directed by Derek Cianfrance

The Place Beyond the Pines (PBtP) attracted me with its all-star cast and the hint that it may be the unofficial sequel to last year’s wildly successful Drive. I’m only joking about the sequel business, but if I accidentally refer to PBtP as Drive 2: Ride, then please forgive me. Everyone is obsessed with The Gos lately, and for good reason, but the rest of the cast solidified this as a must see movie at TIFF this year. I’m often guarded when I see movies with a mega-cast, but considering that PBtP was helmed by Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) and the movie was well over two hours in length, I was hoping that this would not be a case of style over substance. While not a perfect movie, I’m very happy to say that PBtP may be the best thing I have seen at TIFF so far.

The Place Beyond the Pines is a multi-generational story about identity, inheritance, the sins of fathers, and life in general. Gosling plays a motorcycle stunt rider who works as little more than a side-show performer at a travelling carnival. His work is dangerous and he has long ago been hardened by it; his lean body etched with tattoos and covered by tattered clothing. The last time he found himself in the small town the carnival is currently passing through he had a one night fling with a cute young waitress (Mendes), however on this occasion the same waitress seems rather cold, as she harbours a bit of information that is about to change his world. Cooper on the other hand is a young police officer whose role on the street is causing a lot of tension at home. To go into further detail would ruin the experience at the cinema. Characters are fleshed out, important life decisions are made, and paths cross.

As I’ve said, PBtP is not perfect, but there are so many compelling elements that it’s hard not to be very excited discussing this movie. The performances are absolutely top-notch, nearly across the board. Gosling channels some of the same energy that made his Driver so compelling, but he adds a layer of self-doubt and fear which makes his character in PBtP much more accessible and identifiable for viewers. Mendes doesn’t have as much screen time as many of the other lead characters, but when she’s onscreen we see a vulnerability that is uncharacteristic of the characters she normally plays. Mendes has definitely added an interesting dimension to her career with this performance. The young guys, DeHaan and Cohen have an amazing dynamic  throughout the latter part of the movie. It’s hard to believe that they have not acted together before (please correct me if I’m wrong). Also, the supporting actors, particularly Greenwood and Mendelsohn turn in very strong performances. Despite very limited screen time, I don’t think Greenwood has ever been better. Unfortunately, Bradley Cooper is satisfactory at best. His performance is inconsistent, as he’s great onscreen when the situations aren’t that serious, but when things get emotional it feels like he doesn’t have the repertoire to deliver a convincing scene, tear, or emotional line. This becomes even more obvious next to Gosling’s wonderful performance.

The script and direction by Cianfrance are equally as good as the high level performances. PBtP is a multi-generational story, and as such there are gaps of time that we traverse in seconds to catch up with the story. When this happens in a movie it can feel like rebooting your computer – a necessary amount of waiting must be done to get back to business. Thankfully these ‘reboots’ in PBtP fly by, and even though we find ourselves in a new storyline, it always turns out to be a very intriguing one, almost immediately. If I had to say something critical about the writing and directing I would say that PBtP does not tug on the heartstrings as masterfully as the filmmakers may have liked. Certain scenes at the end which should have been very powerful, especially considering how much time we had spent with the characters, but they end up feeling a little flat. Despite my emotional detachment from certain characters and outcomes I was not intellectually detached. The various storylines had me intrigued throughout and the ending was certainly satisfying, although definitely not a tearjerker. When I look back on the experience as a whole, I would be hard pressed to think of a better movie I have seen at TIFF so far this year. The Place Beyond the Pines is definitely one to keep an eye on.

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