Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell’s new film adapted from the 2008 Matthew Quick novel, is an off-kilter film – what other kind does Russell make? – depicting family dysfunction, romantic comedy and mental illness with humor, pathos and wit. It’s getting plenty of Oscar buzz and should pick up as many statuettes as his last film, The Fighter, which received seven nominations.
Monday afternoon, a press conference was held at the Loews Regency Hotel with the director (I Heart Huckabees, Spanking the Monkey, Flirting With Disaster) and the film’s stars Jacki Weaver, Robert De Niro – who was more talkative than we’ve ever seen him — Bradley Cooper and Chris Tucker. Jennifer Lawrence, Cooper’s romantic co-star, who appeared at a special screening the night before, was back on the set of Catching Fire, the second installment of The Hunger Games franchise.
In Silver Linings Playbook, Bradley Cooper stars as Pat, a bi-polar Philadelphia high school teacher whose wife has an affair that lands him in the mental institute. Jennifer Lawrence plays the unstable, recently widowed woman he meets after his release. De Niro and Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom) play protective parents and zany diehard Philadelphia Eagles fans. Chris Tucker, in a small and crucial role, plays Pat’s recently released mental inmate buddy.
The film received the People’s Choice award at the Toronto International Film Festival, a bellwether of upcoming awards glory, as was the case with The King’s Speech and Slumdog Millionaire. Cooper and Lawrence are already being talked up for best actor nominees, while De Niro, in his best role in ages, should receive a best supporting actor nod, with scenes the Academy loves, including one with Cooper where tears spring unexpectedly from De Niro’s eyes.
Press Conference Highlights:
The genesis of the film, the director said, was about five years ago when Sydney Pollack showed him the novel, which he and his partner Anthony Minghella (they both died in 2008) owned with Harvey Weinstein.
“I would say if it were not for my son [his son Matthew has a role in the film with some hilarious scenes], who has had some struggles with bi-polarity and other matters, the book would not have grabbed me … It’s my first adaptation, and the characters were fantastic, very complicated characters, each one of them very powerful” and “grappling with things in a very particular neighborhood way. I then didn’t get to make it as expected,” he said. “I began work on The Fighter, which turned out to really focus my energy on this kind of a world, which I’ve really come to appreciate as a filmmaker.” When Russell came back to the movie, he then “rewrote it again for the people who are up here.”
After he cast the film, Russell added personal elements that incorporated the actors’ experiences. “I got to know Mr. De Niro over a period of years, and we were able to have a personal dialogue about members of our family who faced various challenges, so that’s always nice when you can have that emotional gateway into material. It makes it very specific and personal to you, and you care about it,” he said.
“In Wedding Crashers, Bradley seemed like an angry person to me. When I got to know him, he was only more interesting because the guy was 30 pounds heavier, was angrier at that time and that, to me, was so interesting. When I got to know him, for him to tell me that about himself mirrored the journey of the character and the character’s reintroducing himself to his community,” the director said. “I don’t think people have seen that face of him in cinema.
“Jacki I loved in Animal Kingdom … such a strong, intense presence, and she brought that energy to the film. And I told she and Bob that they were a happy marriage and they still made love … they instantly got that chemistry…
“Chris Tucker, another great revelation for us … you have a guy who we haven’t seen enough of since Rush Hour, and that lends to the reality of a fellow who’s been in a hospital … we haven’t seen him and he’s coming out and he’s happy and he’s trying to talk to people and we don’t know who he’s gonna be, so that lends that energy to Bradley. It tells you about the two of them, with their friendship going back.”
On his role as the always loving dad to a bi-polar child, De Niro said, “I like the way David was directing. It was really good also because we would do the scenes, and he would shout out lines to say and gave it an immediacy, a spontaneity… It was kind of chaotic with shooting where the camera was always moving around hand held this and that, picked up a lot of stuff, and it gave, as I say, a life that’s very important.”
About the unexpected depth of his performance as Pat in Silver Linings, following more familiar comic roles in The Hangover (all three), Valentine’s Day, Wedding Crashers and a little known 2008 horror film called The Midnight Meat Train, Cooper said, “I just fell in love with that guy.”
Gesturing to De Niro, he added, “The main thing was I got to work with this guy … growing up and seeing his movies and being a massive fan, and then getting a chance to work with Robert De Niro for the second time and to play his son, was just incredible, and to do it as Pat Solitano and this family.
“What David really cares about is telling an authentic story about a specific group of people or family in a specific house on a specific block. That’s all he really cares about, making it as specific as possible,” Cooper said. “All of David’s characters in all of his movies are very dynamic. They are dealing with emotions that we can all relate to, but just a little bit heightened, and that was very fun to play and scary to play because you can’t fake it in his movies at all. There’s no room for that, and when you’re across the plain from Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker or Robert De Niro, they’re not going to let you fake it either.”
On his role as Cooper’s former inmate friend, Tucker said, “It was a smaller role, but it had so much depth to the character, and working with David brings so many things out of you and he’s right there with you helping you along the way. And the dialogue is so great, it actually made me look smart in the movie. It was so much fun. This is one of the most important roles I’ve ever done because a lot of people haven’t seen me doing dramatic roles.”
Russell added, “My goal as a filmmaker is really to grab people by the throat with a sustained intensity of emotion that doesn’t really stop. We were surprised with every actor up here who had moments as a result of that. When Jacki steps forward and kisses Bradley, it was an unexpected moment of tenderness, and you have to see the reaction on Bradley’s face like he looks like he’s ten years old suddenly, and to have Bob watching it.
“Similarly, to see Mr. De Niro cry, which surprised us all. You never know what he’s going to do. My son, who rings the doorbell in the picture, when he rings the doorbell for the second time, my son said it was like waking up in Raging Bull. He started laughing nervously, and I said, ‘You can’t do that if you want to be in the scene,’ and Bob, being the master that he is, said, ‘That’s okay. I can make that work. I can play that.’ It plays very real, because it’s like a kid who’s scared of a grown man he’s provoked, who’s yelling at him, and Bob, in the middle of yelling, says, ‘What are you laughing at?’ It just works perfect.”
The film’s most spirited and delightful scenes involve dancing scenes between the two stars. Cooper said, “It’s a hell of a way to meet somebody. I didn’t know Jennifer until the first day. The first time I met her was at a small third floor walk-up on Chestnut Street, a small studio space, and the next thing you know we’re sweating and she has her hands under my armpits and it’s very embarrassing. And she was wonderful,” he said.
“The dance came to life very much the same way that the rest of the movie came to life. David would come often to rehearsals, look at something, tweak it, come up with something else and it sort of morphed,” said the actor. “The dance actually reflects the relationship in many ways. It has almost this bi-polar aspect to it when you get to the end of the movie. I like to dance, so it was fun to do them. But I feel bad Bob and Chris had to sit and watch us dance for three days for 16 hours.” Mr. De Niro grimaced and rolled his eyes.