Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany and Bradley Cooper as Pat. Click on the 'Play' button above to watch the trailer for Silver Linings Playbook.
January 29, 2013
(Republished June 4, 2013)
The most pleasant surprise in David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook is that Bradley Cooper is the best thing in it, despite it also featuring such venerable actors as Robert De Niro, Jennifer Lawrence, and Jacki Weaver, not to mention a happily resurrected Chris Tucker. Best known for the Hangovers - and for somewhat controversially besting Ryan Gosling as People's Sexiest Man of 2011; it was a big deal at the time - Cooper hits all the right notes as bipolar ex-teacher Pat Solitano, desperately trying to return to normalcy after an extended stay at a mental health facility. He's had his moments in the past (Wet Hot American Summer! Wedding Crashers! Midnight Meat Train!); Silver Linings Playbook, however, marks a real arrival. He can also speak fluent French. Clearly the soothsayers at People can spot a true talent better than the rest of us.
Adapted by Russell from Matthew Quick's novel of the same name, this warm dramedy opens with an institutionalised Pat reciting his cool down mantra, "Excelsior." He's spent the past eight months being treated for manic depression; a condition that was aggravated in the extreme by the discovery of his wife Nikki in the shower with another man. The moment Pat fulfils his legal obligation - the result of him beating his cuckolder half to death - doting mother Dolores (Weaver) arrives to check him out and bring him home. His new priorities include convincing Nikki to drop her restraining order, reclaiming his teaching gig at the local school, and just generally finding the 'silver lining' in any scenario that once made him loopy (though Ernest Hemingway books still bum him out). Pat's mission is interrupted by the sexually promiscuous - and similarly unhinged - young widow Tiffany (Lawrence), who harasses him into partnering with her for a dancing competition with the promise of delivering a letter to his beloved Nikki. Meanwhile, his obsessive compulsive father (De Niro), blames the recent bad luck of his beloved Philadelphia Eagles on Pat's return. It all builds to a heart-stopping climactic dancing sequence that takes place the same night of the big Eagles game, and we all suddenly realise that we were watching a cute romantic comedy this whole time.
Jacki Weaver as Dolores and Robert De Niro as Pat Sr.
It's a genius move to have Lawrence twist the 'manic pixie dream girl' archetype by having her play it with full-blown mania. Her scenes with Cooper see Russell veering towards predictable rom-com tropes (which he managed to avoid in the wonderful Flirting With Disaster), but they have the chemistry, and that's what counts most. What really leaves a mark are the sequences with Pat's mum and dad. De Niro does his best work in over a decade as the obsessive compulsive Pat Sr. (hey, I like 2000's Meet the Parents); one sequence in particular threatens to draw a tear. Weaver has the least showy performance of the lot, yet her persistent presence in the background reminds us that Dolores is gifted with supreme patience for the men in her life, even if she lacks the skills to adequately deal with their individual afflictions.
There's much to like here. I remain torn by some of Russell's visual flourishes - as I often am - but I'll always be thankful that a true independent spirit like he is allowed to keep working; criss-crossing as many genres as he does. That Russell can craft an amiable, accessible comedy - populated almost entirely by characters with personality disorders ranging from subtle to severe - is a testament to his expert grasp of tone. Silver Linings Playbook is a fine, funny film, and one that should charm viewers who haven't been tricked by all those Oscar nominations into anticipating it as some kind of world-changing work of art for the ages (damn the Academy for once again unreasonably raising expectations for something that can't hold up to the scrutiny - damn them to hell!).
Silver Linings Playbook is available on Quickflix from June 5, 2013.