By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood December 12, 2012 at 2:21PM
While rom-coms seldom win Best Picture, there's something about the eccentric charm, naked truth, and refreshing unpredictability about "Silver Linings Playbook" that makes it worthy of consideration. And while it might not rise to the level of "The Apartment" or "Annie Hall," director David O. Russell arguably delivers the best rom-com in quite some time. Besides, how can you resist what he terms "Goodfellas" meets "It's a Wonderful Life"?
Certainly editor Jay Cassidy, best-known for "Into the Wild" and "An Inconvenient Truth," was hooked. He liked this cockeyed Philadelphia story in which two mentally unstable social misfits (Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence) hook up and dance their way to happiness and better self-awareness.
"David is very much of the persuasion, as am I, that you have to create a reality," Cassidy insists. "And so his idea, which he certainly expanded on from 'The Fighter,' was to create a very believable world that is eccentric."
Russell's shooting style of discovering and exploring the characters was free form and improvisational in nature, even for supporting actors Chris Tucker (who collaborated with the dance routine) and John Ortiz (who came up with a whole marital back story that enriches the movie's payoff).
The set was lit by cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi for shooting 360 degrees (mostly with a handheld camera or steadicam), and the movie was basically shot in sequence, with the camera running for long stretches and coverage shot in one direction and then another (with line readings or scene order often changing).
Cassidy was therefore given enough material and latitude to "fit the character" in the editing room through a continual process of calibration and recalibration. But the first act was the most challenging because Cooper (who also served as exec producer) needed to find the sweet spot for his quixotic protagonist, Pat Solitano.
"The best example of that is he's a ticking time bomb and how much of his manic behavior should come through in the first act?" Cassidy explains. "And if there's too much, then you've upstaged the climax of the act -- the scene with the parents in the attic. And you don't want the audience to see him behave in such a way that they say, 'Send him back…he deserves to be in the hospital.'
"So Bradley, who was very involved in all post-production issues, had the time to explore Pat so that we liked him and believed in this second chance to remake himself. So, consequently, David would shoot and Bradley would interpret a rougher Pat Solitano, a lesser Pat Solitano; more manic, less manic."
"Silver Linings Playbook" is very adept at exploring how people have mixed motives in life and Lawrence found that dichotomy with Tiffany in making her direct yet likable in contrast to Pat, who admittedly doesn't filter what he says.
In fact, the quasi date at the diner on Halloween was tightly scripted yet Russell expanded on the moment when Pat's titillated by Tiffany. "But in order for the next scene to work, she had to notice that the titillation worked and so David shot more titillation ("How many men?" "Was there a woman?")," Cassidy suggests. "And so we needed to see Pat cross the line with her so they can deal with it outside the movie theater."
Speaking of sexual titillation, they weren't quite sure how the big lift would pay off during the dance routine, so they honed it during seven previews. "We had a lot more material in the dance studio to set it up, and we tried versions where there was no setup along with versions with a longer setup. The audience forgot about it and then remembered it when it occurred and it got a great reaction."
Cassidy also expanded the frantic moment when Pat's father (played memorably by Robert DeNiro) searches for a missing envelope. "We built up more sympathy for Bob's character and extended the moments where he's sincerely asking his son to participate as a good luck charm. It's a good scene made better and it enhances the overall performance by Bobby. Actors like to go to places where they're not comfortable because it puts them in touch with why they've chosen that profession in the first place."
Indeed, DeNiro says he hasn't been pushed this far in years. And when was the last time we saw him cry on screen?
Like Cooper, DeNiro discovers his character through the primal route of the movie, which is finding love in his life, and that's what they all had to answer to as filmmakers.