A lot goes into creating the “willing suspension of disbelief” needed for an audience to become immersed in a film and experience it — laughter, tears, fear — as “real.” The most important factor? The characters must be believable. In reviewing films to vote for in Film Independent’s Independent Spirit Awards, I watched three films in a row, each of which took a radically different approach to this challenge.
I watched Silver Linings Playbook first. It’s a family drama, comedy, and love story based on the novel by Matthew Quick. Written and directed by David O. Russell (The Fighter, Flirting with Disaster), it stars Bradley Cooper (Hangover, Limitless), Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games, X-Men First Class), Robert De Niro (Limitless, Meet the Parents), and Jackie Weaver (Animal Kingdom).
This film reached way down into my psyche. I was born in the midwest, although I was liberated at an early enough age, so I do not refer to the Chicago football team as “da Bears.” Still, the working class characters in Silver Linings Playbook (which takes place in Philadelphia) evoked memories of my aunts, uncles and cousins. De Niro and Weaver especially brought to life characters, flawed, crude, sometimes silly or petty, but always showing love to their family. Director Russell achieves believability by creating unpretentious characters to whom we can relate because their humanity outweighs their flaws.
The characters in Moonrise Kingdom live on the opposite end of the pretentiousness scale. Director Wes Anderson's (The Royal Tenenbaums, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Rushmore), Moonrise Kingdom is set on an island off the coast of New England in the summer of 1965. It tells the story of two 12-year-olds who fall in love, make a secret pact and run away together into the wilderness. As authorities try to find them, a violent storm threatens and the peaceful island community is turned upside down.