Dec 5, 2012
In Defence of Flawed Filmmaking...
Immediately after Silver Linings Playbook won the audience award at TIFF, an intense backlash started against it by critics who hadn't taken to the film. And the rapid escalation in the number of people who claimed it was a serious contender for Oscars only made matters worse. At the moment, I think Silver Linings Playbook might actually be the most divisive film of the year, even ahead of The Master.
It's an understandable position on the critics' part, as Playbook is by no means a perfect film. In fact, it has enormous flaws in both its conception and execution that would under any other circumstance be incredibly grating. There are moments where one can point to specific decisions in camera work or directing that hurt the film. There can be legitimate complaints about its treatment of mental disorder or its practice of tired romantic comedy tropes. From virtually any angle, this is a film that, on paper, should not work. And yet, it totally does. Because, every now and then, comes along a film that reminds me why I love films in the first place. It reminds me that I watch them to be moved, and to be affected and to live with its characters beyond the two hours I spend in the dark of the theatre. Silver Linings Playbook is that film. Not because I can dissect it and analyze it with what I learnt in university film classes, but because it's honest and moving. Because it can look at itself and like everything about itself without reservation; the loving part and the slutty part and the crazy part. All of it. And I commend it for that.
The beauty of Playbook is in the unpredictable energy of Tiffany's dishonest cries of "he's harrasing me," contained within a performance (by Jennifer Lawrence) that is so at ease with the character's insecurities and her unsubtle sexual allure that it becomes reminiscent of the greatest works of Barbara Stanwyck. The greatest moments in the film aren't the work of a director who creates calculated set-ups, but one who reaches inside his actors and finds their deepest human instincts; like when Dolores gently kisses his son on the forehead, or when the father swells up as he opens up his age-old wounds in the attic, and more often than not, in Pat's confused, heartfelt and sky-blue gazes into our soul. It's a film full of nuanced performances that, under Russell's (problematic but) gutsy direction, breathe a new life into an otherwise generic story with their compassion. Russell may well be the greatest humanist working in American cinema today; a director not with his eyes on the viewfinder but with his heart on his sleeve.