Might Bradley Cooper finally get his due? Since making his first real big-screen splash as the preppy Maryland meathead in 2005's Wedding Crashers, this TV actor turned movie star has been fighting an image that's proven pretty tough to shake. While he clearly wants to be taken seriously and sincerely as a real Actor, his smarmy turns in the Hangover films and his misplaced swagger in junk like The A-Team has made him a hard guy to like. There's a certain prickish charm about him, but he's not exactly sympathetic. Now, though, in the second phase of his movie career (which will still include yet another Hangover movie), Cooper is doing the careful work of repackaging himself. Next year he'll appear in Derek Cianfrance's Toronto Film Festival hit The Place Beyond the Pines, he recently wrapped a Depression-era drama directed by Oscar-winner Susanne Bier, and right now he's starring in Silver Linings Playbook, a quirky-in-a-good-way romantic comedy about a man learning to cope with his bipolar disorder. In the film, Cooper pulls off a daring bit of reverse psychology — in making his character frustrating, grating, and a little scary, he somehow wins us over. Though he's playing another jerk, this time the performance is unvarnished and without any of the slick stuff that has been so off-putting in the past. It's the first real bit of capital-A Acting that I've seen from Mr. Cooper and it comes as a welcome, if a bit jarring, surprise.
Welcome but jarring may be a good way to describe the entirety of Silver Linings Playbook, which feels like part two in writer/director David O. Russell's earnest series of portraits depicting the rambling dynamics of blue collar East Coast families and communities. In his grounded but rousing The Fighter, Russell explored the frayed corners of Lowell, Massachusetts with a sensitive documentarian's eye. The authenticity was not a stunt nor was it pandering, it was actually rather frank and honest. He brings the same kind of soberness to the residential Philadelphia of Silver Linings, a place where the houses aren't too nice but aren't operatically squalid heaps, where the people are smart enough and capable enough without being noble "regular folk" bathed in the pitying glow of Hollywood. They are, in fact, just regular folks, though they are given a boost of fizz and color to suit Russell's antic needs.