Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro
Directed by: David O. Russell (“The Fighter”)
Written by: David O. Russell (“I (heart) Huckabees”)
In another light, Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) might be thought of as a quirky, but excessively optimistic guy. Searching every situation for a “silver lining,” Pat thinks positively, works hard, and is dedicated to reaching his goals. But things aren’t that black and white. Pat has bipolar disorder, which means that his optimism is more like mania and his goals are delusional. Serious mental illness might not seem like a topic that is ripe for comedy, but thanks to a razor sharp script and career defining performances from its leads, “Silver Linings Playbook” nails the perfect tone dealing with a serious subject.
After spending time in a mental institution following a violent incident, Pat returns home to try to win back his estranged wife. In the process, Pat runs into Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence) who is herself trying to overcome the death of her husband. As they get together and find out all the ways they are screwed up, it becomes clear that if they are going to get what they want, they’ll need to help each other along the way. Meanwhile, Pat’s superstitious Philadelphia Eagles obsessed father Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) tries to keep their relationship close by spending time watching football games together.
Cooper is nothing short of amazing in a role that is simply in another league from anything he’s done in his career thus far. Not only is Cooper very funny as the unfiltered Pat, but he is also able to capture the darker parts of mental illness with precision. It would be a crime if Cooper didn’t walk away with at least a Best Actor Oscar Nomination. Part of what makes the film so successful is the flawless chemistry between Cooper and Lawrence, who is also on top of her acting game. Fresh-faced enough to play a teenager in “The Hunger Games,” Lawrence also shows that she can play older and mature in a role that calls for a strong presence and strong sexuality, while matching Cooper laugh for laugh. Not to be outdone by the young talent of the two leads, De Niro delivers his best performance in ages as Pat’s father. With all of his superstitions and the inability to communicate outside the realm of football, De Niro’s performance is honest and a welcomed return.
Other than superb acting across the board, the greatest success of “Silver Linings” is David O. Russell’s script. It’s fast, sharp, funny, touching, essentially everything one could ask for in a screenplay. Though Cooper’s personality is greatly enhanced by his outstanding performance, his character is enriched by great dialogue, especially in arguments with Lawrence. Russell is also able to capture Pat’s mental illness pitch perfectly in moments of total meltdowns. Though the film’s ending is telegraphed and a bit predictable, it is completely fitting and the reaction of the characters is well worth any sort of contrivance. “Silver Linings Playbook” isn’t particularly flashy in its visual direction, but Russell certainly makes up for it with an Oscar caliber screenplay.
While the film has the tendency to get a little messy at times, it is never bothersome. In fact, in many ways it mirrors the neurotic personality of its leads, which ultimately becomes part of its charm. Don’t be fooled by the confusing ad campaign that markets the movie as some sort of sports romantic comedy. While the film does feature a fair amount about football, (in highly rewarding ways, by the way) at its core, “Silver Linings Playbook” is not only about mental illness, but two wounded people trying to help each other out. With top-notch acting, especially from Cooper and an offbeat screenplay, “Silver Linings Playbook” is a smash hit in the making and appropriately enough, providing its own silver lining to a disappointing year at the movies.