It blows it in the final shot and sometimes that’s enough. Don’t worry, I wouldn’t dream of spoiling it for you, but that last image really sticks in my craw. Before that, it’s a curious beast, either gleefully unaware of its offensive qualities—or it just plain doesn’t give a shit. And it all comes down to a dance contest! I’ll repeat that…A DANCE CONTEST! How ancient is this device? It probably entered my life when Fonzie tangoed with Mrs. Cunningham on “Happy Days” in the 1970’s(“the Fonz wants to DANCE!”)…and without googling, that certainly couldn’t have been the first time. But for most of its running time, the impending competition is merely a coming distraction for a film that revels in its quirky untidiness. And I’m still not sure how accomplished of an actress Jennifer Lawrence is going to turn out to be(the Reese Witherspoon route beckons), but she is pretty damn adorable here—as well as pretty damn good. Even if her part as Tiffany is just another take on the endless variations of “the hooker with a heart of gold”. She’s not exactly a prostitute in this, but…ahhh, you’ll see. Also, with bipolar disorder, prescription drug addiction, excessive gambling, violent confrontations, divorce and widowhood…”SLP” is being marketed as a comedy. Go figure.
Pat(a solid Bradley Cooper, on his way to his first Oscar nomination)is being released early from an institution to the care of his parents. Seems thirtysomething Pat beat a man within an inch of his life after catching him in the shower with his “loving” wife. Now, he’s on medication and has a restraining order against him—but a certain Stevie Wonder song sends him into rages. Not only is it his wedding song, but it’s what was playing when he discovered his cuckolding. Now Mom(Jacki Weaver, not wasted, but instantly reminding you of how incredible she was as another dysfunctional family mom in 2010’s “Animal Kingdom”)and Dad(Robert DeNiro, shamelessly mugging through another role…does anyone realize how difficult it is to say he’s been great in anything in well over a decade?)have to keep Pat in check while he struggles to reunite with his estranged spouse. Enter Tiffany(Ms. Lawrence), a twentysomething who recently lost her husband and her job(why her career ended sets up a big diner scene on their first “date”). Literally bumping into each other by jogging, two unstable people, who have been on a variety of medications in the previous months, and with practically no filter on what they say or do because of their troubles—begin one of the oddest courtships of the new millenium, so far. Any guesses as to how it all turns out? And do you have enough patience for sub-plots involving illegal gambling(treated in an almost shockingly casual way), the healing power of football(including obsessive love of the Philadelphia Eagles), the cool, black, institutionalized friend(Chris Tucker, in a non-“Rush Hour” film role for the first time since 1997!), and the backyard guest house(wait a minute…maybe Jennifer Lawrence is supposed to be the Fonz!)that’s been partially converted into a dance studio. Is this thing unwieldy, or what?
For a film, so preoccupied with the gridiron, it’s a shame when director David O. Russell eventually manages to fumble the ball. But in retrospect, the whole thing was walking on stilts to begin with, so a fall was not even close to a surprising development. However, despite its oddball scenarios, it’s shocking how much “SLP” doesn’t throw you a ringer when all is said and done. There are some red herrings hanging out there that never quite get to where you believe they might end up. This monster is simply conventional in an unconventional way. And that turns out to be the problem. I don’t know what corrupted writer/director Russell over the years, but he used to have more up his sleeve than this. His 1994 debut, “Spanking the Monkey” tackled teenage suicide attempts and incest. And 1999’s marvelous “Three Kings” was a Gulf War film that wasn’t exactly about that “skirmish in the sand”…and it may turn out to be the best he’ll ever give us. Because after 2010’s “The Fighter”, and now this, he’s obviously resigned himself to playing it safe. At least with his finales. I mean if anyone believes that “Irish” Micky Ward was ever the Welterweight Champion of the world as depicted in “The Fighter”, I have news for them. And if audiences buy that the calculated quirkiness as presented in “Silver Linings Playbook” can mask its predictable selling out—I’ve got a bridge to sell them too. Let’s just call an Oscar grab an Oscar grab, and leave it at that. And Russell very well may end up enjoying the last laugh. Grade: B-