David O. Russell truly loves the people that populate his films. Most of the time, he makes us love them too. But a happy ending is usually pretty hard work for the hero of a Russell film: they’re going to have to fight, scream, connive, and sometimes dance in order to get what they want. This thematic point elaborated upon in a new supercut that shows how Russell’s characters scramble madly through the flotsam of modern life, looking for their own ever-elusive source of happiness and truth. Russell’s shotgun approach may not be for everybody, but what cannot be denied is the deep well of sympathy he has for the strivers, schemers, and screw-ups in his cinematic universe. These are not the timid, well-behaved men and women that we usually see in modern movies: Russell likes his characters flawed, sometimes deeply so. More often then not, he focuses on passionate, big-hearted family people, folks who might be considered by others to be “crazy,” but who are really all engaged in a constant push and pull with each other, throwing punches along with ragged declarations of personal independence and undying love.
The motifs that have largely comprised Russell’s filmography thus far are peppered generously throughout the four-minute video: survival, limited options, unchecked anger, and a love/hate relationship with one’s family, just to name a few. And yet, as we see in the emotionally-charged highlights from films like “The Fighter” or “The Silver Linings Playbook,” all these people are looking for is just a tiny sliver of happiness… or at the very least, a reasonable way to get through the day. It’s interesting to note how Russell has, particularly in the last five years, formed his own very identifiable style. His is a unruly blend of John Cassavetes’ corrosive melodrama and the ball-busting black comedy and urban hysteria of Martin Scorsese, but even with those influences at the forefront, Russell marches proudly to his own off-tempo beat. His exuberant, uninhibited style of filmmaking mirrors the go-for-broke happiness that his characters strive for, and the desperation with which they go about trying to obtain it. These are people with big emotions, big dreams, big accents, and, especially lately, big hair.
It should be noted that the video is mostly taken from Russell’s post-‘Fighter’ output, which makes sense, considering that the 2010 underdog flick marked a sort of turning point in the director’s career. Russell’s earlier pictures — particularly “Flirting with Disaster” and “I Heart Huckabees” — are more out-there and inscrutable, in addition to being much harder to categorize the way “The Fighter” is, on paper anyway, a boxing picture, or “American Hustle” is a crime movie. His keyed-up, now-trademark visual style hadn’t quite developed yet, although the occasional bouts of violence and screwy black comedy were still there, but his post-‘Fighter’ work has seen a remarkable surge in both confidence and filmmaking ability. This writer is personally looking forward to his new collaboration with Jennifer Lawrence, “Joy,” which is said to branch off in a slightly different direction then his other films, but for a well-studied and quick little visual essay on the director’s pet themes, check out the video below. [Press Play]