20 Aug 2014
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This Week at the Movies

'Silver Linings Playbook' is an energetic, off-the-wall romantic comedy, while 'Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2' is better than its predecessors and 'Anna Karenina' favors style over substance.

This Week at the Movies

This week’s new films are all adaptations of novels, but only one of the three pictures fully utilizes the source material on which it is based.

David O. Russell’s “Silver Linings Playbook,” which is based on the novel by Matthew Quick, is easily the week’s best selection.

The film could be categorized as a romantic comedy, but Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Punch Drunk Love” would be a more likely companion piece than anything starring Katherine Heigl.

In the film, Pat (Bradley Cooper) has just been released from an eight-month stint at a mental institution after catching his wife in the act with another man and nearly beating the guy to death.

Rehabilitation at home appears to be an exercise in futility as Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) is a hot-tempered Philadelphia Eagles-obsessed fan who was banned from that sporting team’s stadium from getting into too many fights.

Pat is determined to rekindle his romance with his wife, but a restraining order stands in his way. A pal (John Ortiz) invites him over for dinner, where he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), an equally troubled soul who was fired from her job after sleeping with all of her co-workers in the wake of her police officer husband’s death.

While “Silver Linings” goes through many of the motions of your typical romantic comedy – a meet cute situation, denial between the two characters that they are interested in each other and the reappearance of Pat’s ex-wife – its execution is significantly scrappier and more raucous than most other examples of the genre.

A plot line during the film’s second half involving a dance competition that Tiffany has suckered Pat into entering would appear to lead the film down a clichéd path, but the manner in which the film culminates at the competition is charming, funny and even a little moving.

The performances here are terrific. Cooper, who has previously been relegated to raunchy comedies and silly action films, gives his finest performance to date. And Lawrence, who impressed me with her star-making turn in “Winter’s Bone,” portrays her character with such wit and raw emotion that I’m inclined to think she is wise beyond her years.

The supporting players are also strong: I think this is De Niro’s best work in years, while Jacki Weaver and Chris Tucker are solid as Pat’s mother and pal from the hospital, respectively.

Russell’s oeuvre is difficult to categorize. Some of his films are offbeat comedies, such as “Flirting with Disaster” or “I Heart Huckabee’s,” while others are gritty dramas – “The Fighter.” His best film to date, “Three Kings,” combines all of those elements. With “Silver Linings Playbook,” the filmmaker adds another worthy notch to an unclassifiable, but impressive, resume.

The weekend’s other two adaptations were not as successful.

Alas, the “Twilight” series has come to an end. Director Bill Condon (“Kinsey”) added the worst entry into the popular franchise last year with “Breaking Dawn: Part 1” and, now, he has contributed its best with “Part 2.” This is, however, faint praise.

The picture’s first half plods along similar to the other four dreary “Twilight” films as its characters give each other intense looks and speak in expository phrases.

But then, something happens in the film’s second half. It’s as if the characters decide to come alive – well, at least, as best at the undead can manage – and have a little fun.

Michael Sheen (“The Queen”) appears to be enjoying himself the most as he camps it up as the leader of the evil Volturi, while even the picture’s three leads – played by Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner – drop the brooding teen act and crack a smile.

There’s a plot twist in the finale that apparently deviates from the book, which I have not read, that is both clever and fun. And the tying together of the series’ various threads is handled adroitly in its final scenes.

That being said, I can’t exactly recommend the picture. It’s better than most of the others in its series. But to understand exactly what is going on in “Breaking Dawn: Part 2,” you’d have to watch all four other films – and that is something I cannot endorse.

Joe Wright’s adaptation of “Anna Karenina” is a mixed bag. The director, who is responsible for solid adaptations of Ian McEwan’s “Atonement” and Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” has made a curious choice of over-stylizing Leo Tolstoy’s masterpiece almost to the point of distraction.

For an unexplained reason, the entire movie appears to be set on a stage, from which characters frequently depart by walking down a set of stairs into an empty theater. More than a few scenes involve Anna (Keira Knightley), Karenin (Jude Law) and Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) speaking in public settings as the characters around them all freeze as if they were mannequins.

There’s more than enough drama and tragedy in Tolstoy’s tale to sustain three films, so it’s difficult to discern why Wright decided to put so much emphasis on artifice.

Knightley and Law give able performances, but their work is overshadowed by the occasionally stunning, but often ostentatious, visuals. The movie certainly has its merits and it’s not bad – just miscalculated.

“Silver Linings Playbook” is playing at AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13. It opens in Queens next weekend.

“Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part 2” is screening at AMC Loews Bay Terrace 6 and Douglaston’s Movie World.

“Anna Karenina” is playing at AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13 and opens at Kew Gardens Cinemas on Nov. 21.

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