Awards Watch: “Silver Linings Playbook”

In this series, I look at some of the major players in the 2012 awards race and analyze their changes at taking home some shiny trophies.

And now for something completely different. “Silver Linings Playbook” is about as delightful and joyous of a comedy likely to come out of mainstream Hollywood. And yet, so much about it is not mainstream at all. Although I call it joyous, its characters are far from joyful (or delightful, for that matter).

Pat, played wonderfully by Bradley Cooper, is fresh out of mental institution after discovering his wife in the shower with another man. To put it lightly, pat snaps, soon revealing an undiagnosed bipolar disorder. In their Philadelphia home, Pat’s parents try to cope with his dramatic mood swings, while Pat tries to clean himself up in hopes that his wife will take him back and lift a restraining order against him. In the meantime, Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who recently lost her husband and has some issues of her own. She likes Pat, but Pat is too interested in getting his wife back to notice.

Here’s hoping being labeled as a “romantic comedy” doesn’t hurt this expertly acted and directed drama from taking home gold.

The Academy and other awards bodies have been unusually kind to “Silver Linings Playbook.” It’s easily the most lauded dramatic-comedy since “Juno” and “Little Miss Sunshine.” And there’s good reason for that. It’s easily the most surprising, engaging and honest film about mental illness to come along in a long, long time. These movies tend to either over-sentimentalize mental illness or use it simply to serve a contrived plot. There’s surprising little contrivance here, and that has a great deal to do with the performances from the best ensemble cast of the year. In this movie, everyone is crazy, conveying the important message that we’re all mentally ill, to one extent or another. It’s part of the human condition.

I’ve always liked Bradley Cooper as an actor, but I never expected he had this amount of range and depth. His performance here is nothing short of astonishing, incredibly moving yet real at every turn. Rarely does an actor truly understand the mental illness they’re portraying, but I have a feeling Cooper might be bipolar in real life. He’s that convincing. His deserved nomination for Best Actor should stand proudly alongside the likes of Daniel Day-Lewis. I don’t think he’ll win, but he really does deserve a statue.

The supporting cast is equally excellent. Jennifer Lawrence has been equally lauded for her supporting performance. I think its her eyes. Few actors have truly great eyes, but I can see here entire character encapsulated in her eyes. It’s remarkable, and her ability to go toe-to-toe with Robert DeNiro (who plays Pat’s father) is high praise indeed. I think she should be right up there in the conversation for Best Actress (a stacked category, to be sure).

Speaking of stacked categories, Robert DeNiro faces some stiff competition in the Best Supporting Actor category. All of the nominees are previous winners, but I think this is the best performance DeNiro has given in a long, long time as Pat’s football obsessed father, who may have some issues of his own. Jackie Weaver, who plays Pat’s mother, is equally good, although the Best Supporting Actress category is also incredibly stacked.

As far as Best Picture is concerned, the film really doesn’t have a chance. For some reason, it won’t be considered “dramatic” enough, and the award will go to a more “serious” film. “Juno” faced the same problem a few years ago. That’s a real shame. A film shouldn’t have to be dour or gritty to be taken seriously. And yet, that’s the way things work, at least for now. Maybe films like this will help change that.

David O. Russell’s screenplay and direction are both top-notch. It must be difficult to shoot a movie that contains mostly people talking, but O. Russell and his team manage to keep things visually interesting. I don’t think the Adapted Screenplay has much of a chance against Tony Kushner’s regal “Lincoln” and David Magee’s epic “Life of Pi,” but I am happy that it does seem like it is being taken seriously.

But, for now, I’m happy the film is up for 8 awards. The Academy could have easily overlooked it. Here’s hoping one of the most emotionally honest movies in years takes home some much-deserved gold.

One more thing: I’m thrilled that the film’s editing is getting recognition. The way the editors shoot the film makes the audience feel like they’re ready for some medication by the time the film is over. Creating insanity through visuals is no easy task.

See the full list of nominees here.