Remarkably directed and brilliantly written, “Silver Linings Playbook” is a hugely enjoyable, warm-hearted romantic comedy-drama with a refreshing honesty towards its subject matter and a pair of marvelous performances from Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence.
Every single one of us is at least a little unstable mentally. Certainly some people have much worse conditions than others, but deep down there’s something tweaked within all of us - it’s part of the human experience. And that’s what makes “Silver Linings Playbook”, the new movie from writer-director David O. Russell based on the novel by Matthew Quick, such an outstanding piece of filmmaking: the lead character is described is an undiagnosed bipolar locked up after a violent attack, but his recovery and the sometimes cockeyed support he gets from his loved ones only reveals the fact that none of us are anything close to what could be described as “normal.”
Pat, portrayed by Bradley Cooper, is completely neurotic, saying all the wrong things, with no filter of the words coming from his mouth. Tiffany, portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence, is enchanting as the off-kilter new girl in Pat’s life. The movie starts with Pat being released from the mental hospital. Although there is a restraining order against him seeing his estranged wife, Pat immediately sets out to find her. When Pat and Tiffany develop a friendly relationship, Tiffany offers to get a letter to Pat’s wife. Nonetheless, Tiffany wants something in exchange - a dance partner for a competition. Pat reluctantly takes up her offer... The movie is set in Philadelphia, with Pat’s dad, played by Robert De Niro, in his best role in years, as a diehard, superstitious Eagles fan, and that becomes an essential storyline point as the movie develops.
Most considerable among these people is the young widow Tiffany, a good-looking woman living in the garage of her parents' home, which she's turned into a dance studio. An old school friend of Patrick's, she hilariously reunites with him over supper as they swap notes about the medication they've been taking. Her project is to involve him in an annual dance, the city's local equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing and named after Franklin.
The film succeeds in large part mainly because of its cast, who are all able to take Russell’s unique tonal frequency and bring it to life in a convincing and entertaining way. Bradley Cooper is all manic charm, as Pat Jr; he does manage to strike the challenging balance of a character who is delusional without being tragic or sad; awkward and aloof without being too off-putting or annoying. What we get is a protagonist worth rooting for, regardless of his obvious flaws, and the role requires Cooper to shed a lot of his usual smarmy mannerisms - which he does successfully. Bradley Cooper delivers his greatest performance to date as Pat, sparking palpable chemistry with Lawrence and resisting the urge to overplay the mental illness either for comedy or pathos; the result is a refreshingly honest characterization that's both convincing and emotionally engaging.
Jennifer Lawrence, in turn, is as incredible as always and you can't take your eyes off her; there's a fiery resilience combined with a yearning, under-the-surface warmth to her character that is fascinating to watch. Lawrence continues to prove she’s one of the best thespians of her generation.. In Tiffany, she creates a deeply-layered and exciting character that is attractive yet also sympathetically vulnerable and frighteningly volatile. Furthermore, De Niro turns in his very best performance in a long, long time as irrational gambler Pat Senior and there's superb support from both Jacki Weaver and Shea Whigham as Pat's relatively successful older brother. Even the usually annoying, Chris Tucker, manages to reign in his typical screen persona, though thankfully he isn't around for most of the movie. Although the movie sometimes feels as lost as do its two protagonists, the moment-to-moment joy of every single scene never really goes away or sags, and the uncertainty of the destination just as often works as an advantage, rather than a barrier.
Russell follows The Fighter with a softer, soapier family dysfunction drama, lightly comic enough to make for palatable Friday-night viewing. Thanks to his work “Silver Linings Playbook” isn’t just a great piece of enjoyment filled with appealing, fun characters, but also a movie that gets how weird we all really are. As its nutty lovebirds, Cooper and Lawrence save Playbook from the director’s astonishingly mundane impulses.
Jane Doe writes from the American South East.
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