Can ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ overcome curse of romantic comedy at Oscars?

Silver Linings Playbook” reaped eight Oscar nominations, tying it for third place with “Les Miserables.” It is the first film since “Reds” in 1981 to contend in all four acting categories (Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver.) This look at the trials and tribulations of modern romance is the kind of genuine crowd-pleaser that the academy has rewarded in each of the past two years. And it is expected to win both Best Ensemble and Best Actress (Lawrence) at the SAG Awards Sunday.  

All of this means the film could pull off an upset victory in the Best Picture race — we have it ranked third — if it weren’t for one tiny problem: Oscar’s almost total reluctance to reward romantic comedies. 

You can literally count on one hand the number of contemporary romantic comedies that have won Best Picture: “It Happened One Night” (1934), “You Can’t Take It With You” (1938), “The Apartment” (1960), and “Annie Hall” (1977). That’s only four times in 84 years. Is romance simply not a laughing matter to the academy?

Sure, “Shakespeare in Love” (1998) and “The Artist” (2011) could be considered romantic comedies, but those films had something else going for them: “Shakespeare in Love” was a sumptuous period piece centered on William Shakespeare writing “Romeo and Juliet,” while “The Artist” was a loving tribute to Hollywood’s Golden Age of silent filmmaking. In both cases, there was something else about the film, some higher level of production, that the Oscars could reward.

The last time a contemporary, American-based romantic comedy was nominated for Best Picture was “As Good as It Gets” (1997); it lost to the juggernaut that was “Titanic.” Yes, there have been comedies nominated since then — “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006), “Juno” (2007), “The Kids Are All Right” (2010) — but we’re talking boy meets girl here, something that isn’t the central focus of those films. Even “Chocolat” (2000), as light and fluffy a romance as could be, had the benefit of being set in France.

“As Good as It Gets” won the Golden Globe for Best Musical/Comedy Picture, which “Silver Linings Playbook” lost to the weightier, production-heavy “Les Miserables.” However, “Silver Linings” has gained traction at the Oscars while “Les Miserables” has lost it. The reviews for “Silver Linings” are better than those for “Les Miserables” and it reaped bids for directing, writing and editing while “Les Miz” was snubbed in all three of those key races. 

“Silver Linings” also has Harvey Weinstein in its corner: he’s won Best Picture two years in a row — “The King’s Speech” (2010) and “The Artist” (2011) — and is looking for another. The film is also gaining traction at the box office when it counts the most. Add to that the fact that writer/director David O. Russell has never won and you’ve got a compelling Oscar narrative.

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Plus — and this is a biggie — “Silver Linings Playbook” has a weightiness of subject matter that sets it apart from most romantic comedies. After all, it’s a film about bipolar disorder, which gives the comedy a real edge and pathos. Having a darker element is what set “The Apartment” and “Annie Hall” apart.

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