Jennifer Lawrence

The recent announcement of a new course, “Beyoncé Feminism, Rihanna Womanism,” was met with praise, confusion and most of all, online opposition from students and alumni.

Proponents say the course, crosslisted under African and African Diaspora Studies and Women's and Gender Studies, is revolutionary and long overdue. Opponents claim these women aren’t positive influences and don’t deserve the honor of “the f-word.” Feminism today has a new face. New age feminism takes multiple forms, varying from individual to individual. While feminists can all agree on the need for equality and change, the ethnic counterparts to the much-praised Lena Dunham and Jennifer Lawrence are rarely given the same accolades, and are even criticized for similarly speaking out.

One of the course’s titular subjects, Beyoncé, has been subject to such derision, most recently facing criticism after the release of her self-titled fifth album in which she bravely declares herself an avid feminist. She proclaims her ability to bear a child, marry and have a career all the while embracing her sexuality and flaunting her body, a testament that women really can “have it all.” Straying from traditional feminism, Beyoncé outwardly expresses her sexuality in songs and onstage. She even pays homage to her roots using African dance moves many mistake as attempting to sell sex. Young African-American girls and grown women alike find empowerment in her work, reinforcing the ideals of feminism in a modern way. 

Comparatively, Rihanna unapologetically displays herself on the red carpet and the stage to show the confidence in her body and embrace sexuality while speaking of her self-made success. Her use of expletives and refusal to stray from her lively persona puts her on the same level as her male hip hop counterparts, an equality for which feminists work tirelessly to make the norm rather than the exception. Rihanna and Beyoncé both embody the ideals of modern feminism, so why do mainstream feminists make it their mission to exclude them from the movement?

They’re ruled out as feminists simply because of their ability to contribute to the movement in a modern, sensual manner. The flaw in the opposing argument lies in unintentional prejudice and internalized racism that often goes unnoticed. While we can all relate as women, social activists or feminists, the black feminist experience is unique and needs its own leaders who can empower this subgroup. Black feminism differs from the mainstream in liberation characterized by emphasizing rather than suppressing sexuality. Black women have long been directly and indirectly taught by society that their only worth is defined by their sexualization by men. These women defy this tradition by embracing their sensuality and defining its worth in their own terms, while influencing others to follow suit — a true act of feminism. Herein lies the irony in mainstream feminism: It encourages the liberation of women but only under specific terms, echoing the exact mindset that oppresses women in the first place.

A modern feminist can embrace her (or his) identity by wearing a pantsuit, a romper or barely there clothes. Modern feminism doesn’t judge solely on outside appearance. A feminist can be conservative like Emma Watson, radical like Rihanna or find a balance like Beyoncé. This New Age movement creates a cognitive dissonance as women want to let loose while maintaining a professional image. They should be allowed to twerk, work, get degrees and maintain a collective equality. This course will not only analyze the subtle, and not so subtle, womanism that Rihanna, Beyoncé and other black woman artists embody, but it will open the minds of those who narrowly define who can and can’t be a feminist.

Griffin is a journalism freshman from Houston. Follow her on Twitter @JazmynAlynn. 

Photo Credit: Mengwen Cao | Daily Texan Staff

Watching Jennifer Lawrence shoot a bow and arrow in “The Hunger Games” inspired management information systems senior Vaishnavi Narayanan to pursue archery.

“I always wanted to do archery, especially after seeing ‘The Hunger Games’ and ‘Brave,’” Narayanan said. “When I saw [Katniss] on screen, it was like, ‘Hey, I could do that.’”

Narayanan is one of a growing number of girls who have become members of the University’s archery club, which was previously dominated by male members. According to Hannah Jane DeCiutiis, journalism junior and club president, the club has seen an increase in the number of members, particularly girls, over the past few years.

DeCiutiis said she attributes this growth partly to the increase in movies featuring female archers.

“The influx of new archers due to the Olympics last summer, ‘The Hunger Games,’ ‘The Hobbit,’ ‘Brave,’ ‘The Avengers’ and ‘Arrow,’ has been overwhelming,” DeCiutiis said. “When I joined, the club was a bit of a boys’ club, and it was a lot of engineering students. Lately we have been seeing a larger number of girls who show up at the beginning of the semester and a wider range of students in other majors.”

Nikki Seymour, geological sciences graduate student and club vice president, said the club’s goal is not only to attract new members, but also to keep them involved in the club.

“I think that retention of our new members is more important than their initial interest in the club,” Seymour said. “Hollywood won’t keep making archery movies, but if we can retain and cultivate an interest in the girls that come out to the range now, they can spread the word and keep girls involved in archery.”

Seymour said the club’s tight-knit nature also helps increase member retention rates.

“We provide new archers with all the equipment they need to start shooting immediately, which reduces the cost of entry,” Seymour said “Our veteran members are welcoming, so there is a support network and community in place to help build a sense of engagement and involvement for
new members.”

Narayanan said seeing more girls participating in archery encouraged her to keep coming to practices.

“This year especially, I think there were a lot more girls, which was good because it encouraged me to continue,” Narayanan said. “When I first came in, I saw a lot of guys, so having that group of girls there reassured me that I wasn’t the odd one out.”

Correction: This article has been updated since its original posting. Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this story misstated the club president's name. It is Hannah Jane DeCiutiis.

Mid-December to mid-January always seems to stress out awards-show junkies. There is a hectic release schedule for movies before the official end of the year. In addition to the regular holiday blockbusters, Oscar bait films that may have been out for weeks in New York City or Los Angeles finally see a wide release. Christmas Day alone will see the arrival of three potential awards contenders. 

Here are a few movies to look forward to during winter break. 

 

“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” 

Wide release: Dec. 13

The second three-hour installment of Peter Jackson’s adaptation of “The Hobbit” will see Bilbo, Thorin and the rest of the dwarf company finally
facing off against the Dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch). Orlando Bloom’s return as Legolas is a major selling point for the studio, though the role he plays in the story is still unclear. Last year’s “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” became one of only 15 movies in history to pass $1 billion at the global box office. It is hard to say if the follow up can surpass that success, but the latest return to Middle-earth could be one of the biggest hits of the season.

 

“American Hustle” 

Wide release: Dec. 18. 

David O. Russell’s follow-up to last year’s phenomenal “Silver Linings Playbook” is the first Best Picture winner of the 2013 awards season. The film was awarded the top honor, as well as wins for Screenplay and Supporting Actress by Jennifer Lawrence from the New York Film Critics Circle Awards on Dec. 3. Christian Bale plays Irving Rosenfeld, a con man who teams up with FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) to help take down corrupt politicians. Amy Adams, Lawrence and Jeremy Renner co-star. Early reviews indicate strong potential for acting nominations. Jennifer Lawrence may even be on track to win her second Oscar in two years. The coming months will reveal if Russell’s newest outing holds up against “Silver
Linings Playbook.”

 

“Saving Mr. Banks” 

Wide release: Dec. 20. 

One of the more conventional pictures on the holiday slate, “Saving Mr. Banks” tells the story of Walt Disney’s efforts to put “Mary Poppins” on the big screen. Tom Hanks’s performance as Disney may lead to two nominations for him this year. And Emma Thompson, who plays “Mary Poppins” author P.L. Travers, is always a delight. 

 

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” 

Wide release: Dec. 25. 

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” sees Ben Stiller back in the director’s chair for the first movie since 2008’s “Tropic Thunder.” In the screen adaptation of James Thurber’s short story, Stiller plays the title character, a Life Magazine office worker who spends more of his time daydreaming than engaging with reality. Sean Penn and Kristen Wiig co-star.  

As soon as “The Hunger Games” books attained massive popularity, it was inevitable that they would be adapted into an equally popular film series, and the first film certainly made a big impression on the box office. “Catching Fire,” the hotly anticipated sequel, irons out many of the wrinkles from the first film while following an almost identical formula. It appears to be a fairly faithful adaptation, but it’s also an incomplete film, more interested in getting pieces into place for the next film than telling its own story.

This sequel follows Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), the most recent victors of the Hunger Games, a brutal method of population control that pits teenagers against each other in a fight to the death. As Katniss and Peeta are paraded around the country on a victory tour, they struggle to maintain a mostly feigned romance, with the sinister President Snow (Donald Sutherland) breathing down their necks. After their tour, Snow announces the 75th Hunger Games will use victors from past games, sending Katniss and Peeta back into the arena once again.

“Catching Fire”’s first half hour moves efficiently, establishing its principal stakes and conflicts, but then takes its time getting to the event, opting instead to set up the oppressive government that serves as the series’ antagonist. The struggle against “the man” is a familiar narrative, but “Catching Fire” fails to bring any originality to it. This institution is fairly one-dimensional, its self-serving injustice is more cartoonish and repetitive than self-righteously compelling, and there’s little in the way of development or motivation for the cardboard leaders at its head.

That oppressive government is represented by the perfectly menacing Sutherland and the absolutely chilling Philip Seymour Hoffman. At this point in his career, Hoffman can turn in a great performance while barely trying. Even as he coasts on his icily aloof persona, he’s almost the best thing about “Catching Fire,” only bested by Lawrence.

In the first “Hunger Games,” Lawrence did admirable work as a stubborn heroine thrust into a terrible situation, but her performance here is markedly better. Katniss is profoundly damaged after the events of the first film, and Lawrence visibly wears the weight of her actions, bringing a conflicted determination to her role. Throughout the film, Lawrence elevates every scene she plays, and it’s the kind of performance that reminds viewers exactly why Lawrence is in such high demand these days.

Despite the strong performances on display, “Catching Fire”’s greatest weakness is its source material. The most interesting element of the first film was the interplay between the different tributes heading into war together. This film mostly eschews that, as Katniss, Peeta and the allies spend most of their time battling external threats, like poisonous fog and rabid baboons.

The games are essentially abandoned when the film demands it, and a late-in-the-game twist robs Katniss of any agency, revealing her as a pawn in a much larger and, presumably, more interesting plot. Even more frustrating than realizing the Hunger Games were a distraction to hide the real plot of the film is “Catching Fire”’s cliffhanger, a monumental occurrence robbed of any impact by being summed up in a line of dialogue rather than a sorely needed visual representation.

“Catching Fire” is a better film than the first one. Its characters are more fleshed out, and the actors are sharper and more comfortable in their roles. Director Francis Lawrence does a great job with the lush jungle setting of the games but fails to craft a complete story. The film’s final twists reveal it as more “The Matrix Reloaded” than “The Empire Strikes Back,” a middle chapter designed to get the pieces into place for a big finale. While fans of the book will certainly appreciate the devotion of this adaptation, newcomers may find themselves wondering what all the fuss is about once the credits roll.

Director/producer Ben Affleck accepts the award for best picture for "Argo" during theOscars at the Dolby Theatre on Sunday Feb. 24, 2013, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Photo Credit: AP Exchange | Daily Texan Staff

This live blog was written during the 2013 Academy Awards.  It is a live, slightly snarky feed of everything that happened and did not happen at this year's Academy Awards. 

11:01 In the most annoying way possible, the 2013 Academy Awards end with the ever grating Kristin Chenoweth and Seth MacFarlane. They sing some horrible song which reminds us only of how horrible things were before they started awarding the good statues. 

10:54 The Oscar for BEST MOTION PICTURE is awarded to ARGO presented by Michelle Obama. These producers are all strange men who don't know where to stand. Oh, except best beard George Clooney who's looking great.  Ben also has a beard. He could be nominated. He makes Jennifer Garner cry, and all of us cry, and even himself cry a little. 

10:52 Jack Nicholson announces Michelle Obama on screen from the White House. Rocking her bangs and a beautiful silver dress, Michelle deserves this honor. She should probably win. She plugs how important arts are to our country, and she is right.

10:45 Meryl Streep arrives in a very sparkly dress to present the award for BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE. The Oscar goes to Daniel Day Lewis in Lincoln over Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook, Hugh Jackman in Les Miserables, Joaquin Phoenix in The Master, Denzel Washington in Flight.  He is the first actor to win three Oscars in the BEST ACTOR category. There is a standing ovation, and he looks so happy he almost looks miserable. Unlike our girl Lawrence, Day Lewis has his speech together. He thanks Abraham Lincoln.

10:40 The Oscar for BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE goes to Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook over Jessica Chastain for Zero Dark Thirty, Emmanuelle Rivera for Amour, Quvenzhane Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Naomi Watts for the Impossible. She almost falls in her hurry up the stairs and receives a standing ovation. "This is nuts," she says, and nuts it is. Every Oscar pool is ruined by this point. Jennifer Larence looks incredible, Bradley Cooper looks so proud. Lawrence is totally scattered and has no speech. She was obviously not expecting that. 

10:32 Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas arrive to present the Oscar for BEST DIRECTOR to Ang Lee for LIFE OF PI for their FOURTH Oscar of the night. Lee thanks the movie god and thanks the 3,000 people who worked with him on Life of Pi. 

10:26 BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY is awarded to Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained. Tarantino is a total bozo. He's rambling about character choosing, and calling himself awesome for his casting choices. He "peace out"s the audience.

10:22 Seth. Please stop. Dustin Hoffman and Charlize Theron arrive with a massive height disparity to present the award for BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY goes to Argo by Chris Terrio.  He apparently sprinted to the stage. What is this bad situation? Can you tell us that story? 

10:08 The cast of Chicago appears on stage to present the Oscar for BEST MOVIE SCORE to Life of Pi. Richard Gere makes a joke. It's funnier than anything MacFarland has said. Which is to say, marginally funny. Life of Pi is sweeping up Oscars. Norah Jones arrives on stage she looks nothing like herself. Is she even famous anymore? The Oscar for BEST ORIGINAL SONG goes to Skyfall by Adele who apparently has a last name. It is her first Academy Award. She cries immediately. Some other bro is there. He did something. He does not cry. 

10:01 Another not Beyonce arrives, this time in the form of Barbara Streisand. She receives a standing ovation. Take that Adele.

9:57 Beard number 1 aka George Clooney arrives for "In Memoriam." He says we could dedicate an entire show to it, you know, a show that NO ONE would watch. 

9:50 Selma Hayek looks like she tried to dress up as Cleopatra for a sorority Halloween party. They recap some Governor's Awards, which goes to people who love movies and have done great things for film. No one explains why they are called "Governor's."

9:48 Daniel Radcliffe and Kristen Stewart arrive on stage. Fittingly, the Harry Potter music plays. Stewart looks like she walked through some brush backstage and got her hair sucked into a whirlpool. They present the Oscar for PRODUCTION DESIGN to Lincoln. Christoph returns to the screen from earlier, and we still love him. 

9:43 Nicole Kidman shows us the next three Best Picture nominees with Silver Lining Playbook, Django Unchained, and Amour. Despite Argo's editing win and thus my prediction for best picture, Silver Lining Playbook was by far my favorite of the nominations. 

9:35 Jennifer Lawrence introduces Adele to sing "Skyfall." Adele looks like the sky fell onto her dress. There is no standing ovation for Adele. She is the first singing number to not receive one. The COLD SHOULDER award goes to Adele.

9:32 Sandra Bullock presents the award for FILM EDITING goes to William Goldenberg for Argo

9:29 The Academy Preseident takes the stage and explains a future Oscar museum. It will be the "first of it's kind." It sounds like a museum. REPRESENT. Jennifer Brofer of UT AUSTIN is on the stage!

9:23 Anne Hathaway thanks everyone and bows to her competitors. She is--as she has been since her transformation into Princess Mia--eloquent, elegent, and beautiful. She thanks her husband, who is teary. Who knew Anne Hathaway had a husband!? 

9:20 MacFarlane tries to convince us the Von Trapps are coming. His jokes are all bad. I am not laughing. Christopher Plummer joins us on stage. People laugh at his jokes. He says he has 30 films coming and we are ready for all of them. He presents the Oscar for BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE. It goes to Anne Hathaway for Les Miserables over Amy Adams for the Master, Sally Field for Lincoln, Helen Hunt for The Sessions, and Jacki Weaver for Silver Linings Playbook. 

9:17 The JAWS wrap it up music is old. 

9:09 Facial hair is really back. Everyone is bearded. Beards, beards, beards, beards, beards. There is some learning going on now which is kind of a bummer, but not as much of a bummer as MacFarlane. Mark Wahlberg comes to the stage with some bear that was in a movie that no one saw. The Oscar for BEST SOUND MIXING goes to Les Miserables. The Oscar for SOUND EDITING  is a tie. WHAT? Is this soccer!? This is art. Can't we just be judgement about these subjective things.  The first goes to Zero Dark Thirty and the second goes to Skyfall.

9:01 The musical tribute moves to Les Mis. Hugh Jackman's voice is still not good enough for this role. Also, facial hair, facial hair everywhere. Anne Hathaway is beautiful. Her lip quivers with "One Day More." Samantha Barkman looks like she could be the American Kate Middleton. The entire cast of Les Mis is on stage, and they look just as upset as they did in the movie. French flags drop from the ceiling. They receive the second standing ovation of the night. 

9:00 Still "not Beyonce" continues to sing. Girl's got pipes, but no Blue Ivy. 

8:53 John Travolta lists 1,000 names for a tribute to great musicals. He mispronounces Catherine Zeta Jones's name, but it doesn't matter because she's on stage, and she looks awesome.  No one knows why someone who is NOT BEYONCE is singing the Dreamgirls tribute. Where is Beyonce? Where is she? 

8:49 Seth MacFarlane compares the Oscars to church, which is maybe possible since he's offending everyone. Jennifer Garner is wearing all the diamonds. BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM goes to AMOUR which is unsurprising because, I don't know, they're nominated for best picture. He thanks his wife and its adorable. 

8:42 Ben Affleck is bringing facial hair back. The Oscar for BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE goes to Searching for Sugarman by two men whose names were not on the screen for long enough for me to figure out how to spell them. The JAWS theme song returns, and they leave. 

8:37 Liam Neeson gives us three more previews for best picture with Argo,  Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty. Liam Neeson could have probably also played Lincoln. 

8:32 Kerry Washington and Jamie Foxx arrive to present BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM to Curfew by Sean Christensen. He notes his short time window, salutes someone, thanks his "devishly handsom father," and leaves. The Oscar for BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT goes to Inocente by Shaun Fine and Andrea Nix Fine. They talk about supporting the arts and the music plays even though Amy Adams eyes are welling and we all love her so much. 

8:21 Hallie Berry appears to celebrate the 50th anniversary of James Bond in motion pictures. There is, of course, a play by play of Bond girls in bikinis, some explosions, some car chases, and more Bond girls. Some lady appears dressed like an Oscar statue to sing about Bond. My guess is that this is about the time for Meryl Streep to arrive late with Starbucks in hand during the standing ovation.

8:16  Seth MacFarlane looks like a longer-haired Ken doll, and has about the same sense of humor. Channing Tatum and Jennifer Aniston arrive on stage, thank god. No one looks good in this lighting. The Oscar for ACHIEVEMENT IN COSTUME DESIGN goes to Jaqueline Duran for Anna Karenina.  Who is all of our hero since she also did Atonement and Pride and Predjudice. The Oscar for ACHIEVEMENT IN MAKEUP AND HAIR STYLING goes to Lisa Westcott and Julie Darnell for their face dirt application in  Les Miserables. One of them appears to be wearing pink jeans. Who doesn't know Oscar dress code!? 

8:09 The award for ACHIEVEMENT IN VISUAL EFFECTS, which is maybe the same award as cinematography with totally different nominees(?), goes to Life of Pi again, because it was beautiful. The first of these award winers tries to make a joke about meta-reality, literally no one laughs.  He keeps talking over increadibly loud "wrap it up music" because despite the Oscar's faking love for visual effects, they really don't care. 

8:06 Samuel L. Jackson is in a red velvet blazer. The Avengers present the award for ACHIEVEMENT IN CINEMATOGRAPHY, aka pretty movie award, to Claudio Miranda for Life of Pi. He is rambling about how much he loves his movie and getting teary. "Oh my god, I can't even speak," he says, which is kind of true.  

8:00 Reese Witherspoon joins us with perfect hair waves. She talks about the Best Picture Nominees. We see previews for Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Beasts of the Southern Wild. MacFarlane calls Jennifer Lawrence old, and makes jokes on the expense of the nine year old.  He is the worst, but he welcomes six of the Avengers, which we like--mostly because he's leaving. 

7:55 Paul Rudd and Melissa McCarthy join us with the gold envelope for some jokes. The award for BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM goes to "Paperman" by John Kahrs. It is his first Academy Award and nomination. His speech is short and sweet, he's no Christopher Waltz. The BEST ANIMATED FILM award goes to Brave  Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman. Andrews has on a kilt, which no one "just happens to be wearing." 

7:47 We finally get Octavia Spencer with a gold envelope for ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE. And the Oscar goes to Christoph Waltz for Django Unchained. He bows to his competitors and tears up in his speech behind his thick rimmed black glasses. He looks genuinely surprised, and gives an inspiring speech.   Everyone falls in love with Christoph Waltz.

7:45 This intro is still going. It shouldn't be.

7:38 There is an inappropriate "fake" musical number titled "We saw your boobs." This intro is rough. MacFarlane asks how to fix this and the answer is hidden from everyone. He introduces Channing Tatum and Charlize Theron to dance to "The Way You Look Tonight."  Channing Tatum can dance, but MacFarlane still can't sing.  He welcomes Daniel Radcliffe and Joseph Gordon-Levitt to dance and sing with him. I'm ignoring everyone but Gordon-Levitt.

7:30 We are welcomed to the Oscars by our host Seth MacFarlane. For the first time, the Oscars has a theme "music in films." Probably because Adele is here. MacFarlane makes a couple of jokes that do actually seem funny, but he introduces the Oscars with some sort of roll call that allows him to make these jokes. He makes a slavery joke. Is this okay? He moves on to Django Unchained and also makes a Chris Brown Rihanna reference. A screen descends behind him with Star Trek's Captain Kirk to stop him from "destroying the Academy Awards." Kirk asks "why can't Tina and Amy host everything?" which is really all any of us want. 

7:22 Every red carpet host is incredibly awkward. At the five minute mark we are inside some producing truck where everyone looks awkward. Queen Latifah manages to interact with them like they are normal, and it is an incredibly feat of acting on her part. They are now sitting down, and the real show will start soon. Chenoweth brings up Texas football, and it's horrible. 

7:15 Jamie Foxx really embarrasses his 19 year old college daughter who looks very uncomfortable and unhappy. She looks like someone stole her smile while her father hits on the interviewer. The camera cuts away from some of the most brilliant television drama the Oscars has seen thus far to visit Daniel Day Lewis who is a snooze in comparison.

7:12 Anne Hathaway gives us a preview that the cast will be performing. Kristin Chenoweth's voice still feels like a cheese grater. Especially as she tells Hathaway akwardly that "her hair is growing back nicely." There is a "magic" box they are trying to get us behind. Anne Hathaway guesses that Dorothy's slippers are in there, and people say bad things about the Smithsonian and I cry. 

7:05 George Clooney is unamused with everyone's antics because he's been in Berlin. He promises to drink and makes snarky faces at the hosts, but looks very very nice in his tux.  When Sandra Bullock is interviewed, there are a lot of weird things going on with the sound including Kristin Chenoweth's weird mousy voice. 

7:01 Jennifer Anniston calls the Oscars, "ya know, a magical piece of time," but does say that she will only be attending only one party in her red Valentino dress. The only important people thus far are named Jennifer. The Garner Jennifer claims that she's "just a puddle," which is kind of what the back of her purple dress looks like.   

6:55 Best Dressed has gone to Jennifer Lawrence. No one is quite sure who decided this. Amy Adams and Anne Hathaway were given honorable mentions. 

Silver Linings Playbook stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. Photo courtesy Mirage Enterprises. 

David O. Russell is one of Hollywood’s most unpredictable working filmmakers. Russell’s journey from war comedy “Three Kings” to Oscar-winning boxing drama “The Fighter” is one that’s fairly hard to chart, especially because one of his interim films, “Nailed,” is likely never going to be released. His new film, “Silver Linings Playbook,” is another unpredictable step for Russell, a romantic comedy dressed up as an inspirational examination of mental illness.

Set in Philadelphia, “Silver Linings Playbook” tells the story of Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), who is discharged from a mental hospital in the film’s opening scene. He returns home to his parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver), who are instantly on edge about a possible repeat of the incident that got him incarcerated in the first place. Pat’s erratic behavior doesn’t help their concerns, but once he meets the just-as-nuts Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) and agrees to participate in a dance contest with her, things slowly start to come back together for Pat and his family.

When you think of this generation’s best dramatic actors, Bradley Cooper is by no means the first name that comes to mind, but he is quite impressive as a man who’s just starting to figure out how deep his mental deficiencies run. Cooper is imposing here, always on edge, and when he loses control of his illness, there’s an intensity to his performance that’s only matched by the sorrow he feels once he recovers. It’s unexpectedly harrowing and moving work, and Cooper would be receiving some serious awards-attention if not for an overriding factor.

That factor is the stupendous Jennifer Lawrence, who turns in her most accomplished performance to date. Between launching a film franchise with “The Hunger Games” and this film, Lawrence is having an incredible year. She plays so many different notes, hitting all of them perfectly. In just one scene, Lawrence can go from sexy to wounded to furious. At one point she even goes nose-to-nose with Robert De Niro and wins, something very few actors can say. If there’s one reason to see “Silver Linings Playbook,” it’s Lawrence’s work, because there really aren’t enough good things to say about her performance.

The rest of the cast is filled with essential performances, some bigger than others, all of them ranging from good to excellent. As Pat’s bookie father, De Niro is just as crazy as his son in an entirely different way. Weaver and Shea Whigham round out Pat’s family, both instrumental to exploring Pat’s mental issues while turning in solid performances.

“Silver Linings Playbook” isn’t directed with the precision that we’ve come to expect from Russell, but some of that has to do with the emotional messiness of the material. Mental illness is a difficult thing to make cinematically compelling, and Russell mixes some very dark material with big laughs. The film gets a bit shrill at times and the pacing a bit spastic, but there’s some creative, evocative staging by Russell. David O. Russell has made another crowd-pleaser with “Silver Linings Playbook,” one that plays in heavy emotional territory. Strong performances and a solid handle on tone keep the film from becoming too overbearing, but an ending that’s too sweet by a significant measure concludes the film on a remarkably convenient note. Even so, it’s an entertaining, engaging film and worth seeing, even if only to see Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper give their best performances to date.

In this image released by Lionsgate, Jennifer Lawrence portrays Katniss Everdeen, left, and Liam Hemsworth portrays Gale Hawthorne in a scene from “The Hunger Games.”

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

With any book-to-film adaptation, there’s bound to be lots of disappointed grumbling about how the film doesn’t live up to the book, and “The Hunger Games,” written by Suzanne Collins, certainly lives up in that regard. The film often feels like a CliffNotes version of its source material, and glosses over much of its character nuance. However, as with any adaptation, it’s important to remove the film from its novelistic origin and decide how the film stands on its own merits. Thankfully, “The Hunger Games” is a solid, entertaining beginning to what’s sure to be an insanely profitable franchise.

“The Hunger Games” sets up its concept concisely, via an opening scroll of text that tells of a steely Capitol that punishes its dozen districts for a quashed rebellion by forcing them to offer up adolescent “tributes” to compete in the hunger games, an extended fight to the death that’s televised across the nation. Our heroine, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), comes from District 12, a dilapidated state of coal miners, and when her younger sister is chosen for the games, Katniss volunteers to take her place.

It’s easy to argue that “The Hunger Games” is at its strongest in this early section, and it’s clear that director Gary Ross is most comfortable with this tender, innately human setting. Ross’ previous directing credits include “Seabiscuit” and “Pleasantville,” so it makes sense that many of the film’s most resonant moments come about in the character-driven first act. Ross gives District 12 its own visual stamp, filming it naturalistically and giving the characters a quiet, beaten-down dignity. His staging of the “reaping” (an assembly where citizens are chosen for the games) is elegantly horrifying, especially as the citizens are herded into the center of town like cattle being sent to slaughter.

Once Katniss and fellow games tribute Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) move to the Capitol and then on to the main event, Ross gives each section of the film its own visual dynamic, filming the Capitol as a freak show filled with people dressed like fools and ignorant to the citizens suffering in the districts around them, while the games are portrayed in equal parts action film and tragic drama. The games themselves are the film’s most dynamic portion, and Ross does well tiptoeing around the material’s inherent brutality while still making it dramatic and interesting.

Ross makes the smart decision to let the audience peek into the control center of the hunger games, run by Crane (Wes Bentley), and also dips into its wide supporting cast for reactions to what’s going on in the arena. Strong character actors like Donald Sutherland, Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks all pop up here. While one hopes they’ll play bigger parts in the inevitable sequels, each and every one of them makes an impression here.

Lawrence proves to be a great choice for Katniss, and she seems to be relishing playing a well-rounded female protagonist, something that many films of this ilk (looking at you, “Twilight”) forget to include. Katniss is fiery and charismatic, and Lawrence plays all those notes wonderfully, but her best moment is just before she’s sent into the games, as Katniss shakes with fear and deals with her possible impending death. It’s a subtle, smartly observed moment — one where Lawrence proves she was the right pick for the role.

The love triangle that develops between Katniss, her hometown sweetheart Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and Peeta is the least interesting part of “The Hunger Games” franchise by a long measure, and the film suffers when it dips its toes into that well of melodrama, both in terms of story and performance. Hutcherson gets a few chances to play charming, and while Hemsworth seems to be well-cast as Gale, he completely fails to build a character here.

“The Hunger Games” is effective as a setup for a franchise, but it also works on its own terms, as a story about government oppression, as the cinematic event it’s being hyped as and as a major coming-out party for Lawrence. As an adaptation, it’s a fairly typical cut-and-paste (author Suzanne Collins co-wrote the screenplay), but compelling enough to leave established fans and newcomers hungry for more.

Printed on Thursday, March 22, 2012 as: Compelling adaptation lacks character nuance