Excuse the delay, TIFF is an incredibly overwhelming film festival, where so much clashes, it's much harder than it is at the big European festivals to create any kind of meaningful schedule. This means that I saw Silver Linings Playbook at a private screening before most of the US critics, who immediately cleared a space for it on the 2012 awards table. I have to say, it mystified me, and I have no idea what the film's chances are in the UK, since the title is a riff on a very well-known American football term (I kept waiting for an explanation but none came). It's also, like many of the indies on offer here, somewhat rooted in the American culture of self-medication, with characters that owe more to Benny and Joon – not to mention Romy and Michelle – than Harry and Sally.
Bradley Cooper stars as Pat Solitano, a former teacher who is released from a mental institute, into the care of his parents, after spending eight months there for the savage beating of his wife's lover. The film doesn't really use the word savage, but we see in the flashback that Pat nearly killed the guy, and we're also told that his wife has a restraining order out against him. Neither of these things make Pat a particularly cool or especially misunderstood guy in my book, but Silver Linings proceeds as if he is, putting in his way the sexually promiscuous Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), whose cop husband has recently died. Together they form an odd alliance; Tiffany tries to seduce him but Pat stays oddly loyal to his wife, believing she will return to him in the long run.
The delusional aspect of this comedy-drama is what, to my mind, holds it back, and with so many dysfunctions on display (Robert De Niro, as Pat's father, is seen to be OCD), it's hard not to want to keep these characters at arm's length. The performances are pretty good nevertheless, especially Cooper and Lawrence, but the film remains a somewhat unconvincing adaptation of a novel (by Matthew Quick) that clearly contains a lot more interior monologue, which means Cooper has a hard time selling us Pat. Curiously, so does director David O Russell, who flogged us a whole cast of misfits in The Fighter, and yet that light touch seems to have deserted him here. There are some obvious non-professionals, who give the film texture, but, climaxing as it does in a ridiculous dance scene (hence the Romy and Michelle reference), this seems more like a grainy, grungey cover of a feelgood romcom rather than a genuinely new and unorthodox replacement.
Another adaptation of a post-Prozac Nation book screening at TIFF was Stephen Chbosky's take on his own novel, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, which I liked very much, albeit with a few misgivings. Like Silver Linings Playbook, it uses the framing device of someone going through therapy, in this case Charlie (Logan Lerman), who is grieving for the death of his favourite aunt. After a year in hospital, Charlie returns to school, where the pain of his outsider status is somewhat ameliorated when he comes into contact with the bohemian Patrick (Ezra Miller) and his group of friends. This section of the film works really well, and Chbosky creates a very plausible social circle, in which Charlie falls for the elfin Sam (Emma Watson). The ending becomes Very Serious Indeed, with an unexpected twist on a typical American indie movie plot device, but the three leads – Miller, Watson and especially Lerman, a star in the making – are all engaging and very human.
A book I haven't read and may yet have to is David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, since the film didn't make an iota of sense to me. This is not Empire's official verdict, and is in no way a review, but I found this collaboration by the Wachowski brothers and Tom Tykwer to be utterly confounding, bracketed by a tattooed Tom Hanks speaking in a funny language and taking in such myriad stories as a drama on a slave ship, a cyborg rebellion in futuristic South Korea, a China Syndrome-style investigation into a 70s nuclear power conspiracy, a gay composer (whose work gives the film its not very satisfactorily explained title), and an old man being imprisoned in a retirement home. The gimmick here is that certain faces recur, usually smothered in thick prosthetics, which means that its core cast – Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Jim Sturgess, Jim Broadbent – pop up again and again in various guises. All I will say is that 163 minutes is a long time to be left in the dark.
Derek Cianfrance's The Place Beyond The Pines (pictured) is, for me, one of the films of the festival, a great, gripping drama that is best approached cold, since there is a major twist an hour in that makes it very hard to write about. The lead is Ryan Gosling, star of Cianfrance's Blue Valentine, and the opening scenes have a lot of fun with Gosling's recent appropriation as a screen hunk: his character is called Handsome Luke, he has the word “heartthrob” tattooed on his neck, and his first words to on-off girlfriend Jennifer (Eva Mendes) is “Hey...”, likely a nod to the “Hey girl” viral of last year. This is not a comedy, though, and Cianfrance goes on to create a very long and unusual drama that takes some unexpected but nevertheless very interesting turns within a well-worn genre.
The genre this time is the heist drama. Discovering that he has fathered a child, Luke tries to wake up to his responsibilities, quitting his job as a stunt rider and looking for work as a mechanic. He meets the avuncular Robin (Ben Mendelsohn), who takes him under his wing and suggests a brief career as a bank robber. Robin insists that this should be a short term thing only, but Luke gets a taste for it, not just getting greedy for the cash but getting high on the act itself. To say more would stray into spoiler territory, but Cianfrance has created something really quite special here, reinventing the portmanteau-story format in a very stylish and often breathlessly exciting way.
pythonlove Posted on Friday September 14, 2012, 03:27
Damon, what would you do if we took the adjective "American" away from you? It seems to be your derisive catch-all term for anything you don't "get". Maybe it's just a movie, not a sociological treatise. And FYI, the only football term in the title is "playbook", the "silver linings" part refers to the inside of clouds and should be pretty f-ing obvious.
Damon_Wise Posted on Friday September 14, 2012, 08:58
I don't see that it's derisive, just context. Indeed, I will be using the word British in a forthcoming blog, to describe something Americans may not be too familiar with. The fact remains that there is no Silver Linings Playbook in Silver Linings Playbook. It's the equivalent of calling a British movie Glass Half Full Pools Coupon.
keef_mac Posted on Friday September 14, 2012, 09:41
Ryan Gosling as a stunt rider who has mechanic skills and gets involved in bank heists. It sounds like a skewed version of Drive
pythonlove Posted on Friday September 14, 2012, 20:46
Don't get me wrong, I appreciate your early reviews from the festivals, and of course, I'm not always going to agree with your taste, which is fine. But I've just been seeing a trend of you writing something off condescendingly and/or cynically as "American". I have not seen Silver Linings Playbook yet, but I've read the book and the screenplay, and the two mentally ill leads no more represent their country than a stuttering king or James Bond represents the average citizen of the UK. These are just characters whose lives are unusual (bizarre) enough to merit an interesting story. My point is only that not everything is a cultural chasm. If you don't like the movie or the characters - which is how it sounds - that's fine. But the title is NOT a well-known phrase to Americans either, so it sounds like it's simply the storytelling that's the problem.
Damon_Wise Posted on Saturday September 15, 2012, 00:53
No worries! I just try to describe things as I see them, and I often forget that, as Empire has grown, I'm no longer writing solely for a UK audience. I would never, ever use "American" as a pejorative term, it's just that I think American cinema uses certain colloquialisms and familiarities that sometimes don't travel, just as many, many (frequently much worse) British films do. I would never use "American" as shorthand for sentimental or dumbed down. That's what "Hollywood" is for! (Er, that's a joke.) But, seriously, that's the truth of it, and my comments have more to do with me trying to position a film in readers' minds than anything more sinister.
ChesterCopperpot Posted on Monday September 17, 2012, 18:07
With regards to Cloud Atlas, I fear that it will face the same problem as Fincher's Girl With The Dragon Tattoo adaptation. By that I mean that his version of GWTDT was clearly made with fans of the book in mind. It's noticeable just how many characters aren't actually introduced, it is clearly assumed that people who have read the books will know instantly who he/she is (most notably Goran Visnjic's Armansky, who I'm sure you know is hugely significant later on in the story), but at the same time forgetting that there are many people out there who either haven't read the source material, or worse, just don't read at all.
Whilst I won't get to see Cloud Atlas until February when it's released in the UK, I would strongly recommend reading the book. Not only is it a masterpiece and a pleasure to read, it will no doubt answer many questions you may have had whilst you were watching it. This is not to condone what seems like lazy writing, but trying to film the "unfilmable" has probably resulted in corners being cut in order to get the film made at all. That in itself is a staggering achievement as you will discover when you read it. I also have the exact same concerns with regard to Ang Lee's Life Of Pi, a book I would also consider unfilmable. Only time will tell I guess.
Thank you for your inciteful and entertaining write ups as usual. I have enjoyed reading your festival updates for many years now. Keep up the good work. :)
Damon_Wise Posted on Tuesday September 18, 2012, 21:01
Thanks for the feedback! I hope I didn't give the impression that Cloud Atlas is a write-off; I just wanted to say that I didn't get it and it didn't work for me personally. A lot can change between now and the film's release. It's a really bold and original film, so, in a weird way, I do endorse it. But it won't be for everyone, that's for sure.