Toronto International Film Festival 2012: Silver Linings Playbook, Passion
Today was a day of surprises at TIFF—at least according to my personal-expectations playbook. I saw two new films by directors who sometimes dazzle and sometimes disappoint. Both movies were pleasant surprises, or in any case more complicated than advance buzz or trailers had led me to believe.
David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook was by far the more well-received of the two. The Fighter suggested the director was itching to go mainstream, abandoning the more anarchic-absurdist comic stylings of Flirting with Disaster and I Heart Huckabees. Indeed, on paper, Silver Linings (which Russell adapted from a novel by Matthew Quick) is pure schmaltz, following Bradley Cooper's Philadelphia basket case as he's released from an institution, moves back in with his parents (Jacki Weaver and, having a much better time than usual, Robert De Niro), and attempts to get over a failed marriage.
Friends try to set up Cooper's Pat with an available, perhaps equally troubled neighbor, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who's grieving over her husband's death. This Depressive Pixie Dream Girl plot is as contrived as the rest of the movie (Pat exorcises his demons by joining Tiffany in a dance competition)—but the film has far, far too many great moments for that to matter. Lawrence is always good, but Cooper, deploying his domineering self-regard for laughs, has a breakthrough as an actor. As in The Fighter, local detail helps (there's a priceless bit when Pat bonds with his psychiatrist after running into him at an Eagles game). But there's something about the way Russell handles quirk that strips it of preciousness. I knew I'd surrendered late in the film, as the characters shouted over each other to name the terms of a parlay on Pat and Tiffany's dance score.
Brian De Palma's extremely tongue-in-cheek Passion is the homage-prone maestro's first overt remake since Scarface (1983); the template is Love Crime, a 2010 French thriller by the late Alain Corneau. This time, Rachel McAdams (taking the role Kristin Scott Thomas played in the original) is the advertising exec who delights in exploiting and tormenting her mousy subordinate (Noomi Rapace). But while following the outlines of the previous film, De Palma fissures the scenario in his usual ways, adding dream sequences and doublings. (When McAdams's character announces she has a twin, it's clear we're in Raising Cain territory. It helps that this material—more than, say, Psycho—lends itself to a parodic treatment.) The untrustworthiness of images has always been one of De Palma's pet themes, and as in 2007's Redacted, the director seems newly intrigued by the possibilities afforded by the proliferation of digital media. The idea that anyone with a camera phone can now be a filmmaker—capable of manipulating the truth—gives this tricksy thriller an edge. The only question is: Which character will get final cut?