' Silver Linings Playbook'
4 stars = Outstanding
It sounds like a potential downer on paper, but "Silver Linings Playbook," which dances between dramedy and comedy is surprisingly delightful and deserving of its Oscars.
Bradley Cooper is Pat Solatano, a substitute teacher back home with his parents in Philly after landing in a Baltimore psychiatric facility on a plea bargain (he went psycho on the other man with his fists, not a butcher knife). He is ready and oh-so-eager to reclaim his old life and Nikki, his English teacher wife.
Pat, diagnosed with bipolar disorder with mood swings, insists he doesn't have a history of violence. "I'm not the explosion guy. My father's the explosion guy," and since he's played by Robert De Niro, you can believe that. His dad lost his job and now is a bookie who thinks Pat brings "good juju" when the Eagles are playing.
When Pat meets a young widow, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), she volunteers to help him reach out to Nikki although she asks for a favor in return. And then the playbook veers into unforeseen and ultimately, utterly charming territory.
Pat and, to a lesser extent, Tiffany, speak in a rapid-fire way as if transported to "His Girl Friday." Words tumble out of people's mouths, and characters talk over each other, as folks do in real life, sometimes trading insults or what they consider hard truths.
"Silver Linings Playbook," based on the Matthew Quick novel, is in good hands with writer-director David O. Russell ("The Fighter," "Three Kings") and an eclectic, electrifying cast.
Oscar winner Lawrence handles an adult role with ease and Mr. Cooper takes his comedic chops from "The Hangover" and his dramatic heft from "The Words" turns Pat into a bundle of optimism, nervous energy and occasional hair-trigger temper.
' Not Fade Away'
3 stars = Good
David Chase re-creates the 1960s in this coming of age tale of a man and a musical revolution, with all its social and political upheaval and crevasses opening between the generations.
Douglas (John Magaro) lives with his parents and younger sister in New Jersey at a time when "The Twilight Zone" is on TV, "I Want to Hold Your Hand" on the radio and teens danced and partied in their parents' basements.
Douglas, who plays the drums and has a good voice when given the chance to take the microphone, lands in a band that he eventually calls his "true family."
That doesn't sit well with his father (James Gandolfini), who is none too happy when his son grows his hair into a Bob Dylan cloud of corkscrews, starts wearing Cuban heel boots and talks about dropping out of college where the tuition is a pricey $2,000 a year.
As with any band, there are arguments over names, girls, who gets to sing lead, and if the members are ready or willing to pay their dues, as defined by a well-known producer.
"Not Fade Away" allows Mr. Chase to reunite with Mr. Gandolfini (who will make you miss "The Sopranos" all over again) and Steven Van Zandt, an executive producer and music supervisor.
Like life, it's about small moments and big decisions, about dreams that seem just within reach before they turn to dust, and a family in transition.
It doesn't so much end as stop, much like "The Sopranos" but with far fewer questions and more mood-setting music and memories.
' The Guilt Trip'
2 1/2 stars = Average
In "The Guilt Trip," just her third movie of the millennium, Barbra Streisand plays Joyce, the widowed mother of Andy (Seth Rogen), a lumpy, grumpy chemist and inventor who is embarking on a cross-country road trip to pitch his miraculous new organic-cleaning fluid. But first, he makes a quick dutiful stop to say 'bye to mom in New Jersey.
They have more issues than The New York Times -- notably, his failures with women -- but his discovery that she has an old boyfriend in San Francisco prompts his impulsive invitation for her to go along for the ride. In a sub-compact. The odd couple's Oedipal odyssey is highlighted by her Gap-withdrawal and insistence on being present during his product presentations.
You're only as good as your material and the screenplay by Dan Fogelman (a childhood Pittsburgher from Bethel Park) is decidedly indifferent. Joyce, the generic-Jewish mother, is reportedly modeled on his own. But their banter lacks either Yiddish or Yinzer pizazz.
In theory, the characters are traveling cross-country. In fact, the semi-reclusive star agreed to do the film only if she didn't have to travel more than 45 minutes from her house in Malibu! It shows. Stand-ins are filmed from behind in the B-roll location shots, the most embarrassingly obvious being at the Grand Canyon.
"Guilt Trip," from director Anne Fletcher ("27 Dresses" and "The Proposal"), isn't terrible. It has some amusing dialogue and Ms. Streisand is always enjoyable. This just isn't what it could or should have been, not what we want from one of the greatest singer-comedians of all time.
ALSO THIS WEEK:
• "Broken City": Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe and Catherine Zeta-Jones star in the story of an ex-cop trailing the wife of New York City's mayor.
• "Strictly Ballroom": It's not surprising with all of the dance competitions on television, this 1992 film is being released on Blu-ray. Director Baz Luhrmann ("Moulin Rouge") is in perfect step with this story of a maverick dancer who takes a major risk with a new dance partner. Paul Mercurio is as entertaining off the dance floor as he is when he's dancing.
• "My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic: Princess Twilight Sparkle": Includes five episodes of the TV series.
• "Night of the Living Dead: Resurrection": The film -- based on the original "Night of the Living Dead" -- follows a family trying to escape the dead in West Wales.
• "The Powerbroker: Whitney Young's Fight for Civil Rights": A look at the executive director of the National Urban League.
• "The Details": Raccoons get involved with couple on the brink. Tobey Maguire stars.
• "CHiPs: The Complete First Season": TV series about two California Highway Patrol officers.
• "Wicked": Teens deal with the legend of an immortal witch.
• "The Syndicate: Series 1": Problems occur when five supermarket employees win the lottery.
• "Shelter Me": Documentary on the training of abandoned animals to help people with a variety of needs.
• "The Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries: Complete Collection": Ian Carmichael stars in five adaptations of Dorothy L Sayers' crime thrillers.
• "Tom and Jerry Kids Show The Complete Season 1": Includes 13 episodes on a two-disc set.
• "Friends: The Complete First Season": Seasons one and two are available on Blu-ray.
• "History of the Eagles": Documentary on the rock band.
• "The Scarlet Pimpernel": Anthony Andrews stars in this adaptation of the Baroness Emma Orczy novels.
• "NOVA: Earth from Space": A look at Earth from satellites.
-- Rick Bentley, McClatchy Newspapers