Exceptional portrayals in Russell’s film
Among its many virtues, “Silver Linings Playbook” provides student actors with a wide range of exceptional performances, from lead to cameos, to learn from. The film’s writer-director, David O. Russell, has an unusual gift for creating acutely believable, strongly motivated and empathetic characters.
Russell’s mentoring was exceptionally successful in motivating young female lead, Jennifer Lawrence, to come up with her Oscar-winning portrayal.
In “Silver Linings Playbook,” Lawrence plays a very young widow who falls apart after her cop-husband’s violent death. At first, she can’t get a hold of herself and takes her deep loss out against everyone around her, including another unfortunate character played by Bradley Cooper, who’s bipolar and has just been released from a psychiatric facility and is similarly trying to get his life back.
Right off the bat, therefore, Russell’s film presents us with two “crazy losers” who appear to be fated to get even worse as they can’t decisively confront their problems.
This is supposed to be an “eventual romance,” but the two lead characters don’t even like each other—until they realize that, “broken” people though they may be, they can help each other become whole again.
Given their loopy characters, the two lead players could end up thinking that they’ve been gifted with roles that will allow them to overact like heck, colorfully screaming and flailing around for all they’re worth, to show how “interesting” and “committed” actors they are.
To their credit, however, they also focus on their roles’ other, quieter and less obviously theatrical aspects, and know when to go for depth rather than volume.
Aside from the two young-adult leads’ performances, “Silver Linings Playbook” treats viewers to many other textured and memorable portrayals, including Robert De Niro’s acutely honest characterization of Cooper’s similarly “loser” dad.
De Niro has played many heroic leads in his early starrers, but now that he’s a senior actor, he’s looking for greater complexity and “darkness” to the new roles he plays, hence his interest in this “failed” father and husband.
Also outstanding are the actors who play Cooper’s Mexican best friend and his wife; Cooper’s Indian psychiatrist; his mother and older brother; the cop assigned to make sure he toes the legal line—even the small role of a waitress at a diner!
Their roles may be relatively “unimportant,” but they depict them with complete believability and insightfully idiosyncratic nuances. Thus, they affirm the truth to the traditional thespic dictum, “There are no small roles, only small actors.”
Student actors who watch this movie should note that the film’s cast members go way beyond stereotypes, to play their assigned characters as individuals. Thus, the actor who’s cast as the psychiatrist does much more than counsel Cooper—he has an after-clinic life of his own, which is surprisingly different from his “official” persona.
All too often, bad actors peg their characterizations on “formal” signposts like profession and age, and thus come up with dismayingly predictable portrayals. —No such problem in “Silver Linings Playbook,” where everybody is a unique and uniquely empathetic individual, from start to finish!