David O. Russell is one of those unique voices in film. Spanking The Monkey is one of the most audacious, dangerous debuts from a comedy director outside of Todd Solondz, Flirting with Disaster is one of the finest examples of modern-screwball around, Three Kings is probably my favourite modern war movie, blending genres and subverting expectations at every turn. I Heart Huckabees is an oddity, but an intellectually ambitious and consistently entertaining one. After that Russell struggled to get a project off the ground, his well-known temperament was starting to get in the way of work, but he made his comeback with the multiple Oscar-nominated The Fighter.
The Fighter was Russell at his most mainstream, yet it still managed to stand out from the crowded and now cliché ridden boxing genre, with some interesting quirks layered between the screeching melodrama. Most crucially, Russell had not lost his knack with actors. He's consistently coaxed out career best performances out of his actors, most recently leading an already great Christian Bale to his first, well-deserved Oscar win. Russell also stands beside Paul Thomas Anderson and Martin Scorsese as one of the precious few directors who knows how to get a really good performance out of Mark Wahlberg. That's a formidable and undervalued talent, right there.
Russell's latest, The Silver Linings Playbook, appears to be stylistically conventional but packing in a lot more character quirk than his last work. The film tells the story of a man returning home to live with his parents after a mental breakdown left him institutionalised for four years. Soon he meets another damaged soul with her share of social problems. The titular "playbook" references a life plan to lead them towards happiness. It's touching similar thematic ground to I Heart Huckabees (though less "Philosophy major with verbal diarrhea" in execution) with a more grounded, honest approach to character.
Russell's talents in working with actors always attract big names, and this is no different. We have Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence leading, with a great, lively chemistry, and supporting work from Robert DeNiro, Animal Kingdom's Jackie Weaver, Chris Tucker, Julia Stiles, John Ortiz, Anupam Kher and Shea Whigham.
The Silver Linings Playbook is released 23rd November.