This year’s best actor Oscar category is going to be one to watch. Not so much for who will win (which, in my opinion, will be Daniel Day-Lewis for his breathtaking Lincoln), but who will grab the other four slots. In theaters now are extraordinary performances from previous winners/nominees Denzel Washington (Flight), Joaquin Phoenix (The Master), and John Hawkes (The Sessions). Anthony Hopkins (Hitchcock) and Matt Damon (Promised Land) are getting a lot of buzz. Richard Gere could get his first acting nomination (surprising, right?) for his perfect work in Arbitrage. Same for Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables). But after seeing David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, (“Philly’s Own”) Bradley Cooper deserves a nomination.
Cooper stars as Pat Solitano, a former teacher who is currently in a state institution. When Pat is remanded into the care of his Eagles-loving parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver), he focuses his life on winning back his wife. Legally unable to contact her directly, Pat turns to Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) to deliver a message to his wife. When Tiffany demands something in return, things become very complicated.
Pat is not an attractive character. He has mood swings, manic obsessions veering on narcissism, and complete disregard for others’ feelings. But played by Cooper, Pat is utterly likable. Even at his lowest, you can’t help but root for him. This may seem like nothing new, after all Cooper made you like despicable characters before in The Hangover and Wedding Crashers. Yet in Silver Linings, it is much more. Because the movie is frequently vague—no accurate diagnosis for Pat’s problems, no guarantee that he will get and stay better—Pat feels more real, more human. Cooper still gets to be handsome, but more often there are taut moments with his psychiatrist or in a fistfight with his father.
Jennifer Lawrence (previous nominee for Winter’s Bone) and Robert De Niro (winner and multiple-time nominee) deserve nominations as well. Lawrence for her unpredictable, sad but joyful Tiffany, and De Niro for a father who is prisoner to his own compulsions (mostly focused on the Eagles). De Niro has long shown his tremendous range, but Lawrence—only 22 when she made this film—again proves why she is quickly becoming Hollywood’s go-to young actress.
Silver Linings is not without flaws. With the structure of a romantic comedy and the paralyzing sadness of an indie drama the movie is unclassifiable. Which also makes it inconsistent. Director David O. Russell (The Fighter, Three Kings) has created beautiful moments, specifically the confrontation between Pat and his father and each session with the psychiatrist. But he is unable to completely even out the tone, as many family and dinner scenes feel like they were lifted from a sit-com.
Based on the book by (“Philly’s Own”) Matthew Quick, many will see the film simply for the Philadelphia landmarks. But what people will remember the most are the astonishing performances, particularly from Cooper.