January 16, 2013
Thus, when Russell made Three Kings with Clooney and Mark Wahlberg, his verbal abuse of crew members got so out of hand that Clooney felt compelled to step in. That legendary physical altercation helped Clooney’s career (crews admire leading men who lead) and damaged Russell’s. He didn’t direct another movie until I Heart Huckabees a half-decade later, which became notorious for a viral video of him screaming at Lily Tomlin.
He then tried to make Nailed, in which Jessica Biel becomes promiscuous after getting a nail lodged in her head, but that collapsed in chaos. In Silver Linings, young Jennifer Lawrence embodies Russell’s recurrent fixations upon brain damage and hot promiscuous babes with unexpected dignity, perhaps because she apprenticed in Jodie Foster’s Mel Gibson-goes-nuts movie The Beaver.
In contrast to Clooney, however, Wahlberg stood by Russell (much as Foster has supported Gibson, even bringing Mad Mel as her date to the Golden Globes for her Lifetime Achievement Award). Wahlberg, who as a teen had horribly beaten two Vietnamese men in racist assaults, apparently figured that if a lower-class thug such as himself could reform, a volatile Amherst auteur such as Russell deserved a third chance.
So Wahlberg hired Russell to direct his labor of love, 2010’s The Fighter. That fine family drama, in which Wahlberg underplayed a mild-mannered Irish-American boxer whose career is being sapped by his delusional brother and grandiose mother, won Christian Bale and Melissa Leo Best Supporting Oscars.
Silver Linings Playbook is basically the same Eastern Seaboard Catholic family movie as The Fighter, only with key points flipped. The tall, skinny, crazy guy is no longer the scene-stealing supporting character; he’s now the central figure. (At 4:17 of this video is Cooper’s Celebrity Tirades impression of Bale notoriously losing control on the set.) And unlike previous Russell films about how your family drives you nuts, Silver Linings is about the maniac’s family conspiring to help him regain his sanity.
In its therapeutic bent”the movie debates whether pharmaceuticals or dance therapy are more healing”Silver Linings lacks what could have been a memorably chilling scene. I would have loved to watch De Niro drop his upbeat mask and tell Cooper that while he’s happy his son avoided prison for attempted murder by pretending that he wants counseling, he’s actually proud that his son had reacted to the intruder like a real man.
Now that would have been a great scene. But Russell isn’t crazy enough to derail his comeback from Crazytown by implying to Hollywood that maybe he isn’t sorry after all.