Silver Linings Playbook (2012) / Comedy-Drama

MPAA rated: R for language, some sexual content, and nudity
Length: 122 min.

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker, Anupam Kher, John Ortiz, Shea Whigham, Julia Stiles, Paul Herman, Dash Mihok
Director: David O. Russell
Screenplay: David O. Russell (based on the book by Matthew Quick)

Silver Linings Playbook 2012Bradley Cooper (Limitless, The Hangover) stars as Pat Solitano, a Philadelphia resident recently released from a mental hospital after several months for a bipolar disorder that resulted in a violent confrontation after catching his wife with another man.  Having to start over again while still wrangling his emotional problems, Pat moves into his childhood home with his elderly parents, Pat Sr. (De Niro, Little Fockers) and Dolores (Weaver, Animal Kingdom), and then begins what he thinks is his rehabilitation in order to get his wife, who has a restraining order against him, back into his life.  Not soon after, Pat is introduced to Tiffany (Lawrence, The Hunger Games), a young widow who has sizable issues of her own after engaging in sex with nearly everyone during her period of mourning, and the two decide to help one another as friends to try to achieve some sense of normalcy.

David O. Russell (The Fighter, I Heart Huckabees) writes and directs this hopeful comedy, adapted from a novel by Matthew Quick, that deals with the tricky subject of mental illness with a light but respectful amusement, seeing the conditions the protagonists experience as serious but never losing sight that they are manageable and treatable.   Pat and Tiffany are aware that what they're feeling isn't right, and genuinely want to stop their initial tendencies, which helps us to understand the struggles that many with bipolar issues go through.

What sets Silver Linings Playbook apart from other idiosyncratic romantic comedies is Russell's heavy emphasis on characterizations.  At just a little over 2 hours, this dialogue-heavy (but not overly) story gets to the heart of each character in just a few short minutes, and while they all have their respective quirks, none of those quirks define the characters.  All of the characters are a bit rough around the edges -- even Pat's shrink, the one character one might resume to have it all together, is shown in another light in a later scene as he goes fanatic for Philadelphia Eagles football.  People are multifaceted, and what ails them isn't going to be cured in a few days or weeks.  But they can be coped with, and through coping comes hope, which is ultimately what the 'silver lining playbook' is all about, i.e. finding some hope to hold on to to get you through the darkest of clouds.

But characterizations are nothing without good actors to fill them out, and Bradley Cooper delivers one of his finest performances to date.  Gone is the pretty-boy smile, thick locks, and intense eye contact that had him coast through previous roles in Hollywood blockbusters.  Here, he is a different person, no less intense, but without the charisma or cockiness he usually exhibits -- and that's a good thing.  Instead of the man everyone wishes they could be, he is the thorn in everyone's side.  He's an underdog, a man who, save for the help of his family, would be nothing, and we root for him to make something of himself in the end. 

Though many other older actresses were considered, Russell also takes a chance in casting the 22-year-old Jennifer Lawrence in the part of the sexpot widow, as she would still seem too baby-faced (most of her recent roles has her still playing teenagers), to work as the vamp who would seduce everyone she works with, and also quite immature to engage in a possible relationship with Pat, who is himself suffering from severe maturity issues.  Russell even beefs up the importance of her role from book to screen, going from supporting player to lead actress, and one that must perform comedy as well as dance number, two things the young actress hadn't quite tackled before on the screen.  But she plays the role with equal parts toughness and vulnerability, bold yet self-defeating, and, dare I say, mature enough to make Tiffany appear a bit wiser than years, having undergone more tumult in her short life than most at her age.

And it's nice to see Robert De Niro back in fine form after sleepwalking through over a decade of movies that didn't expand his already dynamic range. 

Silver Linings Playbook is by no means a perfect film, as the storyline does take a few artistic liberties for the sake of comedy, engage in a few contrivances for the sake of molding a more appealing story, and does manage to conform at least to the backbone of a typical romantic comedy (not to mention a typical underdog-done-good plot).  It's not always realistic, but it is often quite truthful.  But the characters are so fun to follow and their situations so interesting that we are willing to overlook most of that in order for Russell to keep digging at basic truths about loss, redemption, and picking up the pieces of one's life when all of the chips are down.  Like the characters at the heart of the story, the film has its flaws, but there's still a lot of redeeming qualities around the rough edges to give it a chance, and in the end, we even appreciate it for not completely having it all together.
Qwipster's rating:

©2012 Vince Leo