Silver Linings Playbook
The essence of the story is nothing new: “damaged” guy meets “damaged” gal and they help each other heal. But what makes this movie different and palatable is a great cast playing complicated characters.
Bradley Cooper plays Pat, a thirty-something Philadelphian who, when we meet him, is being taken home, by his mom, Dolores (Jacki Weaver, the Aussie actress who tries but misses an American accent), from a mental institution, having been placed there after assaulting the man who made him a cuckold. Pat has a new view on life: he’s going to be positive (keeping track of the silver linings life throws his way), straightforward (read: no filter) and he’s going to make himself a better person so his estranged wife will take him back.
He arrives home to find his out of work father, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro), obsessing over his burgeoning bookie business and being obsessive-compulsive while watching Eagles games. As Pat reenters society, he connects with Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), Pat’s friend’s wife’s sister. Tiffany (younger than Pat, though her age isn’t specified) recently lost her husband and is trying to pull through.
And so Silver Linings Playbook, written and directed by David O. Russell and based on the eponymous novel by Matthew Quick, doesn’t mine any great or perspective-changing lodes but, again, there’s still plenty to like.
For example, I was impressed by the fierce and raw performance by Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence burst onto the scene a few years ago in her Oscar-nominated performance in Winter’s Bone. (I thought the film didn’t live up to the festival-generated hype.) Most people likely now know her from The Hunger Games (which I haven’t seen), but in films like this one she proves that the Oscar nomination was no fluke (and she trades in her golden locks for dark, goth tresses). She walks a fine line between strong and vulnerable, never letting herself be the victim. And watch out for her showdown with Robert De Niro at the end of the second act—you may let out an audible, “You go, girl!”
Another silver lining is the intriguing father-son relationship. When Pat arrives home, there’s a valley between him and his father and he often bristles when compared to his old man. Yet as I watched the relationship develop, I couldn’t help but think of the Next to Normal lyric, “Who’s crazy?/The one who sees doctors/or the one who just waits in the car?” It’s almost painfully apparent that Pat senior is just as emotionally unstable as his son, complete with explosive anger issues, yet he’s not receiving any treatment and, in fact, his family and friends become enablers. Regardless of my psychoanalysis, though, it’s wonderfully interesting to watch Pat senior’s journey, especially because the inimitable De Niro reminds us that he’s one of his generation’s finest actors, not just someone who makes funny faces at Ben Stiller.
Still, the movie does have its flaws and drawbacks. One is that the product placement is inelegantly integrated. Another is that the hints and clues and other foreshadowing moments littered throughout David O. Russell’s (The Fighter) film are insultingly heavy-handed. (There’s subtlety and then there’s hitting someone over the head with a hammer.) And, like most teen rom-coms, the climax plays out at a big dance, but even in that there’s a silver lining: Cooper and Lawrence gamely cut loose in a wacky, multiple personality disorder-suffering medley (ah, the symbolism) that mixes Stevie Wonder, The White Stripes and Leonard Bernstein, and I kind of want to put the mix on my iPod. (Actually, the music throughout is terrific. Excellent job, music supervisor Susan Jacobs.)
Most of the buzz for Silver Linings Playbook, though, surrounds our leading man, Bradley Cooper, and with good reason. Given the chance to delve into material that finally rises to his ability as an actor, Cooper (Limitless) gives a beautifully nuanced performance. Without going over the top, he processes everything his manic depressive-but-trying Pat is feeling, internalizing pain and expressing optimism. This is one of those performances that is actually as good as everyone says.
And so Silver Linings Playbook is a good and surprisingly funny movie. Besides, when else are you going to see a film that blends the emotional investment of football fans and the sweat-tastic athleticism of dance? (See, silver linings all around!)