This is a ridiculous movie. Montages and dancing can cure mental illnesses. The population of Philadelphia consists of a rotating cast of a dozen people — and only one police officer — that shows up at the right time and the right place to lend Bradley Cooper's character, Pat, moral support. Jacki Weaver offers to do a lot of cooking. And everybody lives happily ever after.
Yet I kind of like it.
On a recent evening, cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi discussed his work on the movie in Professor Bill Dill's cinematography class at Chapman University. "[Director David O. Russell] has a very … particular taste in what he wants," Takayanagi said, with a pause. "He likes to primarily focus on the actors and what they're doing. Which is great." During takes, Russell placed himself right next to the camera, so he could stay in the same space as his actors. (Many contemporary directors lock themselves behind video village.)
Since Russell prioritized the actors, Takayanagi had to stay flexible. His lighting plans accounted for Russell's proclivity for 360-degree pans. This compromised some aspects of the cinematography: Actors weren't always perfectly lit for close-ups; the filmmakers shot with a wide-open aperture, which must have been hell for the poor focus puller; and lens flares were common since, as Professor Dill noted, "The lights have to go somewhere."
But unlike another 2012 film that had a similarly lofty goal of prioritizing performances at all costs, Silver Linings Playbook actually pulls it off. Takayanagi's cinematography stays firmly in the perspective of Bradley Cooper's mentally unstable character. The camerawork gets more frenetic the more frantic he gets, and Jennifer Lawrence's eye lights — suggesting, on a dime, a spark of arousal or insanity — are a marvel.
Although the climax doesn't make sense — who would have thought our characters' futures would depend on a dual dance competition and football game bet? — it works, because up to this point, the movie has been shot from Pat's point-of-view. Even the bizarre supporting cast, whose interactions hew dangerously close to The Room territory, only makes sense if they're considered from the point-of-view of a mentally ill person hopped up on meds.
This leaves me in an awkward position. I deeply admire this movie for its performances, but find the plot and its cure for mental illness absurd. Perhaps a metaphor will get me out of this pickle: Silver Linings Playbook is like a Jaaaaag driver.