Dir. by David O. Russell - 2 hrs. 2 min.
by Clayton Hollifield
Boy, I wasn't expecting a film this good when I went to see "Silver Linings Playbook." I generally like enough of the people involved, but given the setting and set-up (a romance between "crazy" people), I was expecting something leaning more towards the willfully weird "I Heart Huckabees" than, I guess I'd have to throw back to "Chasing Amy" as a romantic comedy that features flawed people that can't help themselves from making the wrong move at times.
Pat (Bradley Cooper) is former teacher who is about to be released from a court-mandated hospital stay, to go live with his parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver) while he tries to cobble his life back together. He's bi-polar, and for much of the movie seems about half a second from detonating, except when he actually does lose it, which happens more than once. Pat's goal is to turn himself into the man that his estranged wife wanted him to be, at which point he believes she'll come back to him and they'll live happily ever after. He's so focused on her that even when he's introduced to Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), and sparks kind of fly (in a way that's appropriate to the characters), he's still talking about the ex and how he plans to get her back, even to Tiffany's face.
Probably the most distinct feature of "Silver Linings Playbook" is that it's very sharply, and specifically written. The characters are not generic at all. Despite the mental illness (which could have turned into a caricature in lesser hands), Pat is a real person, one who wants his wife back (even though the pursuit is a continual source of stress), one who's family are big Eagles fans, and one who's on constant edge trying to maintain control of his faculties. In one of the interviews surrounding one of the "Hangover" movies, I remember someone talking about how Bradley Cooper has a sort of believable anger simmering under his characters, and that was the draw for putting him in those movies. I didn't quite get that until this film, where that trait is on full display. It's not malicious exactly, but he flies off of the handle at times, and just blurts out whatever he's thinking at any given time. Cooper is absolutely the right guy for this movie.
The other half of the equation is Jennifer Lawrence's character, Tiffany. Her character is equally specific (which is a goddamned miracle), equally well-written, and Lawrence has the fierceness to stand down Robert De Niro in a scene, which is saying something. All the praise surrounding her performance is on the money and well-earned. In terms of what that adds to the film is a rare treat; often in romantic comedies, one character is less a real person and more of a cipher, someone whom the pursuer's needs and wants are projected onto. It would be inaccurate to say that Tiffany is the pursued, but that's often the role that the female lead is slotted into. She's straightforward and goes for what she wants, which makes Pat's focus on his estranged wife brutal to watch - it's clear that Tiffany's putting up with more than she should in the hopes that Pat will eventually notice what's right in front of him, but that's also far from a foregone conclusion.
Another aspect worth noting is the incorporation of the football material in the movie. It's rarely acknowledged in film; sports movies are sports movies, and it's completely ignored in every other film (or treated as some macho, juvenile diversion when it's not ignored). In "Silver Linings Playbook," it's just an organic part of the community - of course everyone in Philadelphia pays attention to what the Eagles are doing. Football games are a way to get family members who aren't getting along in the same room, a manner of father-son bonding, an event that everyone can come together around, a reassurance of normalcy. Even characters like Danny (Chris Tucker), who keeps reappearing during the film having just escaped from the same Baltimore hospital Pat had been at, keeps trying to join Pat's family to watch the Eagles games. It's a community, and the understanding of that here, in what is definitely not a sports movie, is flabbergasting. If you don't believe that, watch either of the big scenes between De Niro and Cooper's characters, one in Pat's bedroom, and the other when Pat Sr. explains his rationale for his wager on an Eagles' game; they're both brilliant.
The best compliment I can pay to the film is that even up to the very, very end, how things were going to play out was a mystery. There are so many believable, combustible elements involved that as a viewer, you know the wheels are always about two seconds from flying off the vehicle. And even more importantly, I was hoping that they wouldn't. I was hooked all along, and even through the climactic dance scene, who knew what was going to happen? "Silver Linings Playbook" is a fantastic movie, way better than I was expecting, and one I'm definitely going to watch again.
4.5 / 5 - Theatre