Review: 'Silver Linings Playbook' Has Troubled Love & Dark Laughs
by Ethan Anderton
November 30, 2012
Both Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence have had plenty of success in various arenas. While Lawrence's career skyrocketed after an Academy Award nominated turn in Winter's Bone and led to the lead in The Hunger Games, Cooper has been a sought after talent for years jumping around from comedies like The Hangover to action flicks like The A-Team, and more recently, dramas like The Words. But when it comes to Silver Linings Playbook, both on-screen talents step into uncharted territory as two unstable counterparts, each coming to terms with life and all the pitfalls thrown their way. The film is darkly funny, harrowing tale of love overcoming obstacles in the face of emotional immaturity and mental insecurity.
Cooper plays Pat Solitano, fresh out of a stint in the mental hospital following a violent fit of rage upon finding his wife Nikki in the shower with one of her university colleagues. Despite the better judgment and advice of Pat's doctor, his mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver) comes to collect him from the institution and bring him home under the watchful eyes of she and her superstitious and hard-to-please bookie father Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro). Right from the beginning, it's clear this relationship is a tense one as Pat's portrait leans against the wall on an end table while his brother Jake's (Shea Whigham) hangs proudly on the wall. It also doesn't help that Dolores brought Pat home without telling his father.
Within the first night of being back home, it's clear that Pat is not ready for life outside the hospital. His first task is to dive into all of the books his wife Nikki taught to her university students in order to prove himself somehow. This is just the first in a long line of actions and conversations that Cooper makes cringeworthy with an overly earnest and clearly unstable personality brought on by undiagnosed bi-polar disorder that he refuses to acknowledge. If there's a sliver of hope to even talk to or see Nikki, Cooper makes Pat's desperation seep through his every movement and word. It's not subtle, but it's by no means over the top. Pat is not right in his mind, and Cooper's performance is so good that you feel like a friend, helpless to intervene in his eventual downfall and disappointment.
But then hope (if you can call it that) arrives when Pat meets Tiffany (Lawrence), the widowed sister of his best friend Ronnie's (John Ortiz) wife Veronica (Julia Stiles). Immediately, they hit it off as two depressed and sometimes medicated people can. Complete with awkward, inappropriate conversations, uncomfortable outbursts and unpredictable behavior, the two begin to bond over meetings that can be considered dates in the most conventional sense of the word, but far from romantic to any rational person.
Lawrence shines as an irrationally spontaneous young woman always on her guard by being overly aggressive (especially in the sex department). But it's when Lawrence has to be vulnerable that her performance really takes off. Suddenly the role of Tiffany goes from being a cliche to a rich, provoking woman who might hold the key to Pat's healing. Though that doesn't mean she's without her own issues, mistakes and shortcomings to confront in her own time. Thankfully, both her and Cooper's problems aren't overwhelmingly dramatic, but make for some hilarious dark comedy that is sometimes brought on by the sheer discomfort of some scenes, thus proving how truly genuine these performance are.
Director David O. Russell allows the relationship between Cooper and Lawrence to blossom in extended conversations that he has adapted brilliantly from Matthew Quick's novel. Whether the two two are running on edge, side-by-side in the streets of Philadelphia or sharing a "meal" in a nearby diner, Russell has captured and bolstered two stunning performances that make for a film that is not only entertaining, but worthy of a few pulls at the heartstrings. Whether it's the intimate close-ups of a fast-paced conversation or the sultry wide shots of an increasingly intimate dance routine, Russell gives his stars the right frame and space to grow and radiate pure movie star caliber acting.
But it's not just Lawrence and Cooper that share great chemistry. Cooper's father-son dynamic with De Niro is both genuine and heartbreaking as Pat is so eager to please his father but discouraged by his judgmental personality (not to mention his overbearing superstitions and love for the Philadelphia Eagles). A pivotal scene involving almost the entire cast really throws the film into Best Picture territory as each actor has a chance to throw their performance against each other, but not in any competitive way. The result is an Grade-A ensemble scene that cuts to the core of our characters and sets the stage for a climax that is worthy of cheering in the theater.
Silver Linings Playbook didn't have a lot of buzz before the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival and has been sitting in limited release for about a month now, but mark my word, this is a crowd-pleasing film that can bring as many tears as laughs. While the performances from Cooper and Lawrence will certainly stay with audiences well after the credits roll, supporting performances from Weaver, De Niro, Ortiz and one recurring and impressive big screen return from Chris Tucker (no longer yelling in your face) are remarkable in their own way. However, none of this would be half as good without a stellar script and direction from David O. Russell, who has made a film that is far superior to his entry of The Fighter in last year's Oscar race, and just might be the director's finest work. Silver Linings Playbook is moving, funny and definitely one of the best films of the year.
Ethan's Rating: 9 out of 10