Why I’m Not Crazy For “Silver Linings Playbook”
Writer-director Paul Schrader once said that his ill-fated 1986 rock-and-roll drama Light of Day—starring then-teen idol Michael J. Fox and Joan Jett (in a role once meant for Bruce Springsteen) as blue-collar siblings—died in the casting stage. Well, Silver Linings Playbook died in the recasting stage, when Mark Wahlberg, who’d previously worked magic with writer-director David O. Russell in Three Kings and The Fighter (not to mention I Heart Huckabee’s), was unceremoniously replaced by the allegedly cheaper Bradley Cooper in the tricky lead role of a bipolar ex-mental patient struggling to keep it together.
Well, Russell got what he paid for: Cooper’s okay, but a better actor—like, say, Mark Wahlberg (the only cast member nominated for an Oscar for Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, mind you, and he should’ve gotten recognized for Boogie Nights and The Fighter, too)—could’ve done so much more with the role. Still, that won’t stop 800 lb. gorilla Harvey Weinstein from mounting what’s no doubt destined to be a successful campaign to get Cooper a Best Actor Oscar nomination. When you really look at the film, though, whatever angst emanates from Cooper’s character, and it’s nowhere near the real pain a truly bipolar individual experiences, is generated from Russell’s skillful editing and use of music (no one employs pop music better, save maybe Martin Scorsese).
It’s a shame, because the rest of Silver Linings Playbook is sterling, finding real emotional depth in an essentially sugarcoated script. The cast received an upgrade when Jennifer Lawrence replaced Anne Hathaway in the female lead, as a cop’s promiscuous widow who cajoles Cooper into entering a dance contest. Robert De Niro wakes up from his decade-long career nap to deliver a lively turn as his Philadelphia Eagles-obsessed father, and Animal Kingdom‘s Oscar-nominated Jacki Weaver perfectly embodies his brassy wife. Most surprising of all, Chris Tucker—in his first non-Rush Hour gig of the millennium—brings a genuinely manic energy to the role of Cooper’s fellow-patient pal.
Cooper’s performance remains stubbornly on the surface, however. There’s a reason why he was cast in the reboot of The A-Team as Face, because that’s just about all he’s got going for him. Sorry, Marky Mark—your long-overdue Oscar will have to wait.
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