"Fighter" director tackles mental illness in "Silver Linings"

TORONTO Sun Sep 9, 2012 6:07pm EDT

1 of 11. Actors Bradley Cooper (L) and Jennifer Lawrence attend a news conference to promote the film ''Silver Linings Playbook'' during the 37th Toronto International Film Festival September 9, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Fred Thornhill

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TORONTO (Reuters) - After Oscar success with 2010's gritty comeback tale "The Fighter," director David O. Russell is winning early praise for another movie about a man struggling to make the most of a second chance.

"Silver Linings Playbook," which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, features "Hangover" comedy star Bradley Cooper as a mentally ill man trying to rebuild his life after losing his spouse, home, job and freedom.

Jennifer Lawrence, 22, who recently shot to fame in young adult action movie "Hunger Games," plays a widow in her own fight with depression who offers to help him reconcile with his estranged wife.

The script was informed by Russell's own experiences with people who have struggled with mental health problems, the filmmaker said on Sunday.

"That's definitely a big motivation in the story, to take off the stigma and that's a great thing for a filmmaker, to have something that's charged ... radioactive, that people are scared of," he told a news conference.

The film's lead characters, Russell added, are "two of my favorite kinds of people because they inevitably tell the truth, unvarnished, bluntly."

Still the director, who has also made darkly comic films like "Spanking the Monkey" and "Three Kings," said the issue of mental health shouldn't overshadow the film's focus on relationships.

"Just as 'The Fighter' to me was not about fighting, this movie to me is not about mental illness. To me, it's always about the people and the dynamic of the people," Russell said.

"That's what rivets me and grabs me by the throat for the whole movie."

EARLY REVIEWS POSITIVE

The film's blend of family drama, comedy and unlikely romance has earned early praise from critics.

The Hollywood Reporter described the film as "wonderful" and said Russell "brings out the best in a superlative cast led by Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, both of them showing unexpected colors."

Screen Daily praised the "the brave, resonant performances" from Cooper and a "never-better Jennifer Lawrence."

Strong performances also helped make Russell's 2010 movie "The Fighter" a critical hit, with actors Christian Bale and Melissa Leo both winning best supporting actor Oscars.

Cooper said he felt like he'd hit the jackpot when he learned he was cast by Russell, who he said worked intensely to ensure everyone captured the nuances of their often-complicated characters.

"All of us I can say, were very out of our comfort zone, every day, in a beautiful way, the way you want to be as an actor," Cooper said.

Lawrence said she was drawn to the project by the quality of Russell's script. She dismissed the idea that she might feel under pressure with this film given the box-office success of "The Hunger Games".

"I don't really feel that much pressure because, either way, I get paid," she joked with reporters.

(Editing by Todd Eastham)

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