Silver Linings Playbook Review


Silver Linings Playbook is a bright rainbow of a film, but you wouldn’t know it from the way it starts. It’s hard to imagine that a film that opens in a mental hospital with a clearly disturbed Bradley Cooper could, in two hours, convincingly make the leap to a larger-than-life dance competition with real financial and personal stakes, but this is writer-director David O. Russell’s great achievement. And that he does so with as much honest humor as any other 2012 film makes this the sweetest of cinematic treats.

Cooper’s Pat Solitano finds himself in a Baltimore hospital on court order because he assaulted his wife’s lover after catching them showering together. But as the film opens, his mother (Jacki Weaver) accepts responsibility for him and takes him home to Philadelphia. Pat’s father (Robert DeNiro) is at a loss for words upon seeing his son—not just because he’s surprised to see him, but also because his mind never strays far from the Philadelphia Eagles or his sports betting operation.

Pat has no real prospects, but he’s sure his wife, Nikki (Brea Bee), is out there waiting for him. The restraining order she took out against him? It’s none of Pat’s concern. He’s just biding his time so he can really impress her. He starts reading the novels she assigns to her students (she’s an English teacher). He gets into shape. And he spends some time with Ronnie (John Ortiz) and Veronica (Julia Stiles)—a married couple with a new baby who remain close with Nikki.

Knowing the Nikki thing is never going to happen (and not wanting to give Pat the bad news and risk another meltdown), they introduce him to Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence)—Veronica’s sister who’s struggled with depression and other mental and emotional problems following the death of her husband, Tommy. The two have a natural rapport, despite the fact that they each speak without a filter, and Tiffany offers Pat a deal: If he agrees to be her partner in a dance competition, she’ll break the law and pass a letter he writes off to Nikki. And so they practice…

Of all the things Silver Linings Playbook does right, its best move was the casting of Bradley Cooper as Pat. Not only is this the man’s best performance by a mile, it’s also one of the best of 2012. He’s laid bare in ways that vacillate wildly between endearing, funny, mean-spirited, and brutally sad. His chemistry with Jennifer Lawrence (also excellent) threatens to jump off the screen. And most importantly, he manages to sell us on his character’s enormous transformation. It’s a feat of every aspect of the film—from the writing to the editing and more—but it’s Cooper’s big achievement and the reason the film is so special.

His biggest chance to stretch comes during a key scene about a quarter of the way through Silver Linings Playbook. Pat’s home from his first encounter with Tiffany, during which she says she’s willing to have sex with him. He all but runs away after that offer (after all, he’s a married man—or so he insists), but the sexual tension real messes with his head and he has a big-time meltdown trying to find his wedding video in his parent’s attic. He actually knocks his mother down and ends up in a fist fight with his father. It’s a tough scene to watch; There’s a sense of discomfort seeing a man go through something so distressing. But this scene—again, besides being a real showcase for Cooper—serves as a great transition from a first portion of the film, marked by its uneasy (but totally sure of itself) tone, to something more akin to a traditional romantic comedy.

That Russell hooks you with the more inherently dramatic material makes the film’s turn brilliant. As the film ticks forward (quite briskly, it should be noted), you’ll notice familiar beats come more and more frequently. And some of them are silly—the swirling camera during a moment between partners in love, the musical montage that does some of the heavy transitional lifting. You can tell, however, that Russell is firing on all cylinders because none of it feels problematic. In fact, the further down the romantic-comedy rabbit hole he goes, the more satisfying the film feels.

Jennifer Lawrence is the other half of this rom-com pairing, and though she’s not quite on Cooper’s level, she’s a worthy adversary when it comes to his verbal barbs, as well as a partner we’d like to see our “hero” get together with.

Robert DeNiro ups his game for the first time in years with a supporting performance that does exactly what it needs to. He’s equal parts foil and friend to his son—probably because Pat is the product of a pushover mother and a father who’s a lot like him at his worst. DeNiro never loses our sympathy by showing just enough humanity to make this difficult-to-live-with dad a believable and relatable figure.

Jacki Weaver completes the Oscar-nominated quartet with a good performance that’s easy to miss because she spends half her screen time going on about “crabby snacks and homemades,” but she, like DeNiro, helps us understand where Pat came from.

Make no mistake, however, this film belongs to Cooper and Russell. The latter’s screenplay is witty and very knowing (some the dialogue really skewers the genre tropes the film ultimately relies on). His visual sensibility is colorless, which makes the film’s turn toward matters of the heart pop. The former is an absolute champ—game for anything thrown his way (including wearing a garbage bag and verbally assaulting those around him). Silver Linings Playbook might not be the year’s enigmatic marvel, nor its most auteurish masterpiece, but it’s a damn fine film—a crowd-pleaser of the first order—and one of our best director’s best movies.

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