At first glance, Silver Linings Playbook, nominated for the best picture Oscar, could be dismissed as just another quirky love story. But director David O. Russell reveals the film, which has been nominated for eight Academy Awards, has a very personal meaning to him.
''I have a son who's 18 and who has bipolar and OCD issues, among other things,'' says the filmmaker who came to prominence with Three Kings (1999), I Heart Huckabees (2004) and The Fighter (2010). ''I had been waiting and looking for a project that would make him feel more a part of the world and feature a character to say, 'Look, there's people like you in the world and you're going to be OK,' and when I was given this book, I knew I'd finally found it.''
Based on the best-selling novel by Matthew Quick, the film stars Bradley Cooper as Pat Solitano, a man who has lost everything - his house, his job and his wife. He's now living back home with his mother (Jacki Weaver) and father (Robert De Niro) after spending eight months in a mental-health institution. While rebuilding his life, he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a mysterious and outspoken widow who offers to help him win back his wife if he'll do something important for her - partner her in a dance contest. As the deal plays out, their relationship begins to change.
''My son, by the way, is the young man who rings the doorbell in the film so he earned a role in the film where he could act with Mr De Niro, because it's also very personal for Mr De Niro as well,'' Russell says.
''Robert has family members in the same situation and we had spoken for many years about our children and what programs they were attending, so when I brought the script to his home and we talked about making the character less of an angry guy and more like how we feel about our own children, he started to cry and that's when I knew it had meaning for him.''
Oscar-nominated star Jennifer Lawrence, 22, admits she struggled to find her own connection to her character. ''I didn't really feel like we had a lot in common at all so I needed to shed all of my Jenniferisms and take myself out of it,'' she says. ''Tiffany is forceful and stubborn and at the same time insecure and thinks all these terrible things about herself, but she's also at complete peace with all of these things and I think that's why she can remain likeable and help Pat.''
Bradley Cooper, who's achieved heart-throb status as People's Sexiest Man Alive after the success of The Hangover franchise, laughs when complimented that he doesn't seem that good-looking in this film.
''Thanks - I think!'' he grins. ''Something special did happen with the transformation, which I largely attribute to David O. Russell,'' the 38-year-old adds. ''He really saw me as Pat and there were also some similarities with my own family growing up in Philadelphia, dipping their scones in their tea in the same kind of home, so it allowed that other world to come by osmosis.''
Russell is a famously difficult director who once had a physical fight with his star George Clooney on the set of his 1999 drama Three Kings. The 54-year-old filmmaker confesses he's a lot calmer and more humble today. ''I always say the silver lining is that my son required me to grow my heart three times bigger, because there's nothing easy about it,'' he says.
''I might have just been one of those parents who wanted their kid to go to the fanciest school and worried about status and God smacked that right out of me! The whole bar for everything was raised for me as a human being to be a bigger person and, now, when I look at someone who could be acting like an asshole, I have no idea what they are dealing with so it makes me look at everybody differently.''
Despite Aussie Oscar-nominated actor Weaver being the least famous of the four actors in the film, Lawrence insists her contribution was huge. ''The first time I saw Animal Kingdom, I rewound every single one of her scenes because I was mesmerised,'' she gushes. ''And what makes it even more amazing is that in person she's so friendly and sweet and adorable and funny. I've never seen anyone so universally loved by the cast and crew.''
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
GENRE Romantic comedy.
CRITICAL BUZZ Great reviews and eight Oscar nods for this must-see film.
STARS Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver.
DIRECTOR David O. Russell.