23 February 2013 | bob the moo
Solid performances but obvious direction and writing rob it of wit, intelligence and depth
Beyond the nominations for Oscars, I hadn't really heard much about this film so I didn't have any preconceptions to speak of and came into it blind more or less. The film focuses on two characters who are each struggling with mental and/or emotional issues that manifest themselves in acting out violently or sexually. The two get together to work on a dance project which appears to help them deal with their issues to a point, however family pressures, emotional pressure, sports pressure and just generally life doesn't just go away.
Given the cast involved and the awards it is up for, the one thing I did expect was for the film to be better than it ultimately turned out to be. It has a certain charm to it but mostly the film disappoints by being so very straightforward and never going really going anywhere dark or deep. Considering the backgrounds (and presents) of the two lead characters, this film is roundly safe and accessible. The mental and emotional struggles of the characters don't seem so bad – just bad enough to justify them as plot devices but never bad enough or real enough to really be an issue that would challenge the viewer or even make them uncomfortable. It isn't that it is comic so much, just that it hasn't got much meat on it. This continues throughout the film before finally it gives up any pretence of being more than just romantic fluff with an ending which does at least represent honesty from the makers – this is the film they were making all along. This is not to say that it is without value – because it is a big film with a lot of talent that is aiming to be accessible entertainment, and it doesn't miss that mark – it is just disappointing that it was aiming for the target generally, not the bullseye.
The cast certainly deserve better than they got, although of course they are generally good enough to make the most of what they have. Cooper isn't someone who appeals to me much but he was solid here. Lawrence will probably get the Oscar here and, whether she deserves it or not, she is pretty good – everything asked of her she delivers which is why it is a shame that the film didn't ask for more. De Niro is enjoyable in his turn while there is decent support from others such as Tucker, Mihok, Stiles and a few others – nothing amazing, but solid. Nobody really shines though – but this is down to the material, not them. Russell as writer and director doesn't seem to have any spark, nothing really going on that stood out for me – it is professional, has some charm but mostly it was workmanlike.
This is how the whole film turns out in fact; it is good in specific moments but it really plays a nice safe line throughout – ignore the subject matter, it may sound dark and interesting but it is nothing of the sort. A safe film that is consistently accessible and easy on its way to a conclusion that is at least honest about the type of film it is – it will charm many with the ending but the majority of the film doesn't charm or challenge, it just "is", and I found that to be disappointing.