Inside the big gamble (and triumph) of Silver Linings Playbook
Each month in the pages of EW, we’re chatting with the filmmakers, actors, and others involved in capturing an iconic shot in movie history. This edition of The Shot examines Silver Linings Playbook's big gamble.
The settings for David O. Russell’s acclaimed films range from the deserts of Iraq to the stages of QVC. But after going through his filmography to choose an epic shot, he landed on the dance floor of Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin Hotel where two unlikely performers, both battling mental illness, bask in the glory of receiving a 5...out of 10.
"I wanted to go back and find a frame that stood strong in the test of time as a really well-earned, exuberant moment that was full of complications,” explains the writer-director of this scene from his 2013 Best Picture nominee Silver Linings Playbook. “No one else understands why they won when they seem to have lost. I love that your personal victory is one only you understand.”
Shooting the triumph for Pat (Bradley Cooper) and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) was hectic for Russell, who was balancing all of his film's elements coming together for the first time, the presence of the entire cast, a highly choreographed routine, Lawrence taking 2 a.m. naps in the middle of the dance floor, Robert De Niro standing around and waiting with the extras ("They can do it, so why can't I?" Russell recalls of his conversation with the legendary actor), and his diabetic father playing one of the judges. “Half the night I’m worried about if he was eating, so I had a sandwich under the table,” shares the filmmaker.
He did have a nice surprise waiting for him when cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi added a floor lighting system that was timed to explode colors upward, an effect reflected in the scene’s purple tones. Russell says he knew having dance factor so prominently would be viewed as "crazy," so the pressure was on to have it pay off. "I always liked when I watched it with an audience and you could hear this incredulous sound of laughter that they were actually going to perform this dance," he reveals. For the emotional-filled number, Russell collaborated with choreographer Mandy Moore, and he now gets a kick out of the fact that one of the songs featured is Leonard Bernstein's "Maria" and Cooper is soon set to direct and star in a Bernstein biopic.
Before production even began, Russell was faced with the challenge of figuring out how to believably give these amateurs a victory. "How can you have this where they win but it's also honest about who they really are?" he explains. "You don't want to have an ending where you feel like you get everything — because that's not real. And I love the ridiculousness of winning with a five."
Russell instructed his stars to “embrace the shame” as their low scores are handed out. He then built in a pause as Pat and Tiffany realize their average is exactly what they need to win the parlay bet Pat Sr. (De Niro) put on the dance competition and Eagles game (a wager surely never replicated since).
"I want them for a minute to not know what it means, and to feel down, feel lost, feel like everyone in the room is laughing at them, feel like a loser," says Russell. "And then you do the math and you realize, 'Oh no, we won.' I told them not to hold back at all when they celebrated."
But when it came to the professional hoofers next to his actors, he didn't need give any direction: “They actually looked at [Jennifer and Bradley] the way their characters looked at them, which was with pity. [Laughs]”