Although it’s a tad overrated in some circles, Silver Linings Playbook is a fine piece of filmmaking engineered by acclaimed director David O. Russell, whose 2010 feature The Fighter earned him a few Oscars and a truckload of box office dollars. Here, Russell fundamentally melds the screwball comedy of I Heart Huckabees with the dramatics and the uplifting disposition of The Fighter, and it’s a concoction that works. Written by Russell himself, Silver Linings Playbook is an adaptation of Matthew Quick’s novel of the same name. It’s a story which deals with the delicate subject of mental illness in a respectful fashion, and it manages to alternate between poignant and light-hearted with a sure hand. Best of all, it’s not a pretentious art-house production but rather an accessible motion picture with heart and laughs.
Philly native Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) has lost everything. After spending eight months in a psychiatric facility with acute bipolar issues, Pat returns to his parents Delores (Jacki Weaver) and Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro). However, his wife Nikki (Brea Bee) has a restraining order against him, he cannot return to his job, and he no longer owns his own house. Pat’s sole focus is on reuniting with Nikki, hence he sets out to rehabilitate himself and get himself fitter in order to convince his estranged wife to lift the restraining order. At a dinner with friends, Pat is introduced to Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a young widow with issues of her own who’s having a tough time letting go. The two semi-outcasts soon begin to bond, with Tiffany simply wanting a friend and Pat hoping to use her family connections to get in touch with Nikki. Soon, Pat finds himself entering a dance competition with Tiffany in exchange for her agreement to pass a letter onto Nikki on Pat’s behalf.
The only flaws of Silver Linings Playbook are script-related. Take away the offbeat predilections of the central characters, and the result is a pretty generic romance flick, with the proverbial meet-cutes, falling outs, misunderstandings and make-ups that we see all the time. Moreover, the film does feel its two-hour running time, with a few patches of rocky pacing and an awkward sequence in the third act when the Philadelphia Eagles unnecessarily become a focal point. The Eagles stuff does underscore Pat Sr.’s OCD disorder, but it has too much of a presence in this story ostensibly about Pat and Tiffany, taking away focus from what matters the most. Shortcomings aside, Silver Linings Playbook is a marvellous motion picture, and the formulaic nature of the romance actually translates into an engaging viewing experience with a few interesting twists on the proverbial clichés. Best of all, Russell manages to negotiate the film through its tonal shifts, switching between comedy and drama without making the enterprise feel as bipolar as its protagonist. And the film does not feel schmaltzy or manipulative; it earns its emotion.
Not since Reds back in the early 1990s has a motion picture earned Oscar nominations in all acting categories. Cooper, Lawrence, De Niro and Weaver were all nominated for Oscars, and it’s easy to see why. Cooper, who has recently become a big star, too often exudes an aura of smarminess that harms his charisma, but he’s truly transformed himself here. He’s such a nuanced and likeable presence, dialling down his regular tendencies to the extent that it’s like watching a different actor to the one who starred in Wedding Crashers and The Hangover. Meanwhile, coming off her huge success as the lead in The Hunger Games, Jennifer Lawrence delivers her most adult performance to date here, proving she can handle more than just effortless teen roles. She’s beautiful and charming, and it’s easy to like her despite her darker side. Lawrence picked up an Oscar for her work here, and deservedly so.
Silver Linings Playbook also welcomes De Niro back into the land of the living; the actor is back in fine form after sleepwalking through almost every film of his for over a decade. He expands his dynamic range, convincingly playing Pat Sr. and pulling off obsessive-compulsive disorder in a remarkable fashion. Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom) is every bit as impressive as her co-stars, playing Pat’s mother in a loving, believable fashion. But the accolades don’t stop here; Bollywood star Anupam Kher is terrifically engaging as Pat’s psychiatrist, while John Ortiz does great work playing one of Pat’s best friends. Also of note is Chris Tucker in his first film appearance outside of the Rush Hour franchise in fifteen years. Tucker is astonishingly great in the role of Danny, a fellow mental institution patient who developed a friendship with Pat.
Mental illness is a sensitive topic for a motion picture, especially a comedy. In the wrong hands, such a movie would result in a disrespectful, moronic and overdone depiction of mental disorders. Fortunately, Russell handles the subject in a masterful fashion, and the result is a well-made, crowd-pleasing dramedy spotlighting superb performances and an adept mix of pathos and humour.