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The Toughest Scene I Wrote: David O. Russell on Silver Linings Playbook

In this recurring feature, Vulture speaks to the screenwriters of 2012's most notable movies about the scenes that they found most difficult to crack. What pivotal sequences underwent the biggest transformations on their way from script to screen? Today, Oscar-nominated screenwriter David O. Russell tells Kyle Buchanan about the sprawling Silver Linings Playbook scene that evolved the most:

It's got to be the parlay scene that ends the second act, where Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) comes charging in and confronts Pat (Bradley Cooper) and his father (Robert De Niro). It evolved many times, and it traversed a lot of emotional terrain ... and it's a crazy scene. It's like that Woody Allen joke: "My brother thinks he's a chicken." "Why don't you take him into a mental institution?" "Well, I would, but I need the eggs!" That's sort of what this scene is, because it's nuts, but it still works! Quentin Tarantino was actually kind enough to tell me that it was his favorite scene in the movie.

Pat is in the middle, feeling bombarded by the two biggest agendas in the film, his father's and Tiffany's, and then Tiffany throws her weight over to his father's side and they change alliances. She doubles the stakes on the loss of money, so now the mother and Pat are opposed to Pat Sr. and Tiffany: The allegiances have changed, and before you know it, Pat is quitting the dance! It really evolved from a scene that used to be mostly about Robert De Niro exploding at his son. That still happens, but we then brought the Jennifer Lawrence character into the scene — that was a big decision to make — and now she goes toe-to-toe with him in his own territory. Everyone has their own language in the film, and his is the language of superstition and sports, so for her to come in and make this sort of legalistic case in his language … that was a big discovery in the rewrites leading up to production.

Parlay is a piece of language that I didn't know a lot about, and when I asked people to explain it to me — they'd tell me about the "over/under," which I still don't understand — I thought it was such a specific piece of language and such a wonderful thing. I knew that half the audience would say, "What the fuck is a parlay?" But that's the sort of thing that I love! It's like when you visit another country and you're intrigued by something: You don't know what they're talking about, but to them, it's life and death. That was my guiding star for everything in that movie, that everything a character was fighting for felt like life and death. Pat and Tiffany's relationship was life and death, Tiffany's dance contest was life and death, and Pat Sr. winning his bets was life and death. And the whole notion of "winning with a five" cuts to the heart of the movie.

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