Sunday, January 20, 2013

As it happens

Jane Austen for bi-polar characters, letters included.
The most marvelous thing happened at the showing of Silver Linings Playbook (2012) I attended.  As Jennifer Lawrence's character reveals a very painful portion of her backstory, an audience member gasped and let go of a sympathetic "Ohhhh" as if this confidence was a true story being recounted in our own presence.  Even better, we all resisted the temptation to chuckle at this naive expression of sympathy, because we were not far from where that tender woman was.  At this point, still in the first act, all of us in the audience were already so invested in these characters that we had become genuinely worried about them and concerned for their emotional recovery and survival.

That's particularly impressive because at this point in the movie, they're both a pain in the neck.  That's a hallmark of the characters in writer-director David O. Russell's films, a corpus which includes Spanking The Monkey, Three Kings, Flirting With Disaster, I ♥ Huckabees and The Fighter.  The films and the characters tend to be smart, acerbic, obsessed and a bit superior.  But there is a wonderful echt-Austen moment in the meeting of Lawrence's and Bradley Cooper's characters, the instant recognition of kindred damaged spirits and the consequent opening of hostilities as a mode of flirting.  Obviously, if you hate yourself, you're going to hate anyone you're attracted to, right?  After all, if your mind is broken, at least it shows you have one.

But where body and mind meet, that's where cinema lives.  So the film really takes off when Cooper and Lawrence dance together (charmingly, like the amateurs they are) to Stevie Wonder's "Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing."  Arlene Croce said it in her book about Astaire and Rogers:  When two characters sing together, they're falling in love; when they dance together, they want to have (or they are actually having) sex.  There is an intimate energy to the rehearsal montage (that word!) that is irresistible.

One last note -- the family dynamic is astonishingly similar to that of The Fighter, something I was thinking about in the theater before I remembered that the two films had the same writer-director.  There is the oppressive influence of the parents, the slightly soiled (and disapproved) girlfriend, the weight of brotherly expectation.   When you consider that the one piece is based on a true story and the other on an utterly unrelated novel, the critic feels invited to see autobiographical qualities in those shared elements.  And in both cases, Russell smoothly blends stars and journeyman actors into a seamless ensemble.

It seems Russell was always telling us about broken people -- it's just that he has now shifted his emphasis to the ways in which they fix themselves, and the result is exhilarating.

Enough to make you gasp and say, "Ohhhh..."

1 comment:

  1. Just realized that she is Mr. Darcy, not seeking any human contact at the moment and he is Lizzie, chasing someone else. They irritate each other...until...