Friday, 1 February 2013
FILM REVIEW: SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
"The Academy hates comedy" is an argument you hear almost every year during awards season when heavyweight, historical and just plain dramatic films receive most of the attention and pre-cursor accolades.
Of course, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association gives Comedy its own category at their annual awards show, the Golden Globes, but nobody takes them seriously (unless they want to market a film, or prove a point e.g. "see, the Academy got it wrong!").
This year, the Academy voters seem to have fallen head over heels for Silver Linings Playbook, with eight nominations, including Best Picture, and making it the first film in 31 years to score nods in all four acting categories.
Directed by David O. Russell, SLP is perhaps best described as a dramedy but it is more comic than dramatic even as it deals with issues of mental health and grief: Pat (Bradley Cooper) is bipolar; Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), is a grieving widow who refuses to do so under a veil, literally or figuratively. (The chemistry between these two as they each find their way, and each other, makes the film spark.)
But just as people decry the Academy's anti-comedy bias, many seem to be perplexed and dismayed at this display of affection for SLP. And I'm not sure why. O. Russell's film is no less entertaining or intelligent than last year's early Best Picture frontrunner, The Descendants; directed by Alexander Payne and starring George Clooney, it's another dramedy about family dysfunction.
Clooney starred in another early favourite dramedy in 2009, Jason Reitman's Up In The Air, which lost momentum when most critics' bodies and then the Academy voters decided they'd rather go to war in Iraq with The Hurt Locker than criss-cross the country with a frequent flying swinging bachelor. It makes as much sense to say that the Academy's choice that year means they "hate comedy" as it would to say they "support war".
Conversely, in 1998, the last time a comedy won the top prize, the Academy chose (wisely) to award Best Picture to Shakespeare In Love over Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. For all its period costumes and literary conceit SIL was a rom-com, and a damn fine one at that.
But why Silver Linings Playbook? Is it the best comedy of 2012? No, but then 21 Jump Street is hardly the kind of film the Academy is going to go for. Sure, in the privacy of their own homes the voters may pop the screener in the DVD player and laugh their asses off but it's not going to get their #1 vote on the ballot.
But why not Richard Linklater's Bernie, or Jack Black for Best Actor for that matter? Who knows, although exposure (i.e. campaigning) plays a major part in the Oscars and no one campaigns better, or harder, than SLP executive producer, Harvey Weinstein.
That's not to suggest that SLP's nominations were bought or voters bullied into it. There's an emotional component to Silver Linings Playbook -- whether rooting for the underdog as Pat tries to get his life back on track, or the budding romance between Pat and Tiffany; or the intentions of Pat's concerned though slightly nutty parents (warmly played by Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver) -- which people genuinely engage with and respond to.
Will it win Best Picture? I don't think so. Does it deserve to? Well, it's not my favourite of the 9 nominees (that would be Lincoln) but it's not my least favourite either (that would be the heavyweight, historical and dramatic Les Miserables). But we may have to wait another year or two before we see a comedy win Best Picture, although last year's deserving winner, The Artist, was by no means a drama.
For now though, Silver Linings Playbook is a perfectly fine, smart and funny piece of entertainment for Oscar voters and prognosticators to use as therapy to work through their aversion to comedy.