Much bigger crowds on Friday than the previous two days for LSIFF. This isn’t to be wondered at, with the weekend beckoning. Even Jayne Mansfield’s Car on opening night didn’t attract a completely full house, but both screenings I attended on Friday were packed to the rafters.
The first film was Hyde Park on Hudson, a picturesque exercise in nostalgia set in the late 1930s, with President Franklin Roosevelt (Bill Murray) running America from his country house in upstate New York, where King George VI of England (Samuel West) visits him to try to enlist America’s help in Britain’s coming war with Germany. The whole thing is told from the viewpoint of Margaret “Daisy” Suckler (Laura Linney), a distant cousin of the president’s who’s called in to distract him and winds up becoming one of his several mistresses. The movie suffers from the same issue that plagued My Week With Marilyn — here’s a bunch of fascinating historical figures milling around, and this movie decides that the fly on the wall is more interesting than any of them. Linney is powerful as always, but there’s a whole half of the movie that’s about her, and it drags the movie down. So does the insane amounts of voiceover narration, which is largely taken from Daisy Suckler’s own letters and diaries. The movie only finds its groove when the king and his wife Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) arrive. The polio-crippled president and the stuttering king (yes, this is the same George VI depicted in The King’s Speech) wind up bonding as world leaders who have to hide their disability in order to project strength during hard times. West, who has done most of his acting on British TV, winds up stealing this movie by playing the king as an aristocrat who’s befuddled and then charmed by the informality of his American hosts. He’s very funny. The mostly older crowd at this screening ate this movie up. I nibbled at it in a civilized manner.
On the other hand, Silver Linings Playbook turned out to be the home run that I was waiting for, both from this year’s festival and from writer-director David O. Russell. Bradley Cooper plays a bipolar schoolteacher who has just been released into his parents’ custody from a mental institution. He moves back in with them in Philadelphia, determined to patch up his marriage and keep up a positive attitude. (He’s a huge Philadelphia Eagles fan, so we know that staying positive will be an ordeal for him.) He falls for a friend’s sister-in-law (Jennifer Lawrence), a cop’s widow who experienced depression after her husband’s death. One of the movie’s many funny scenes is their first meeting, when they compare notes on antidepressants while everybody else at the dinner table looks uncomfortable. The whole cast plays like they’ve just done a shot of Red Bull, and even Robert De Niro (as Cooper’s dad) looks more energetic than I’ve seen him in at least a decade. Cooper gets underestimated because he’s a good-looking guy who made his name in comedies, but he conveys the despair that his character is in because of his condition. We haven’t really seen Lawrence be funny in a movie, but she does it really well here. There needs to be Oscar nominations for these actors, and whoever cast Julia Stiles as Lawrence’s sister deserves an award, too, because those actresses really look alike. And the movie climaxes at a dance contest, of all places. We’ve come to expect LSIFF to show us at least one of the year’s best movies. This is it.