Film Review – Silver Linings Playbook
Based on Matthew Quick’s 2008 novel of the same name, Silver Linings Playbook attempts to walk the fine line between comedy and tragedy. Both main characters are struggling to sort through their own forms of mental illness while coping with recent loss. Not exactly what one would consider the makings for a laugh riot, but when have you ever known director David O. Russell to shy away from a challenge?
Bradley Cooper stars as Pat Solitano, a former high school teacher who has just been released (perhaps prematurely?) from a mental institution after a violent incident involving his wife’s lover. Among a laundry list of dangerous compulsions is his tunnel vision in winning her back. This, despite the restraining order she’s filed against him. As a result, he finds himself living back with mother (Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom) and father Pat, Sr. (Robert De Niro, turning in his best work in years) in the house he grew up in. Pat, Sr. loves his family and the Philadelphia Eagles in equal measure and hints of strange superstitions and an OCD streak that help to paint a picture of the Solitanos’ endearing but prevalent instability.
An impromptu dinner invitation from one of Pat’s old friends and his high-strung wife (John Ortiz and Julia Stiles) leads to one of the strangest meet-cutes in cinema history. Stiles’s sister, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence of Winter’s Bone and The Hunger Games), a recent widow, has even less patience for the evening’s goings-on than Pat does, and within minutes they’re jokingly comparing the effects of various forms of antipsychotic medication they’ve been prescribed. He walks her home and is quickly propositioned. See, Tiffany views herself as something of a slut since her husband’s passing, and has no qualms about putting it all out on the table (so to speak). Pat, of course, is too intent on rectifying his damaged relationship with his wife. This misplaced devotion frustrates Tiffany to no end.
Without giving away too much, some emotional blackmail comes into play, and Pat finds himself forced into being Tiffany’s dance partner for an upcoming competition. This requires weeks of rehearsal, and the two only end up learning more about each other with each passing session. The connection that Cooper and Lawrence share on screen is undeniable. There is a frantically fun energy to their exchanges that make even their more despicable actions or comments not just forgivable but sympathetic. I’ll be the first to admit I was a little dubious when news of Cooper’s casting made the rounds, and I couldn’t be more ecstatic to have been proven wrong. His turn as Solitano is tirelessly engaging, and it will be a damn shame if he doesn’t get an Oscar nod.
Fresh off the roller coaster ride of his critically adored The Fighter, David O. Russell brings a similar frenetic pacing to these proceedings. Note the at-home interactions between Pat and his parents. It almost feels as though we’re being dropped in mid-conversation, and the way in which they talk over each other lends an air of authenticity that’s harder and harder to come by these days. The Fighter took a similar approach (although the laughs were sparse) and stood out because of it. Russell’s previous forays into comedy (Flirting With Disaster, I Heart Huckabees) have always been, at the very least, interesting, but his evolving everything-up-to-and-including-the-kitchen-sink style of direction only seems to be improving with age.
And let’s talk about Chris Tucker for a second, shall we? He plays Danny, a hair-obsessed friend of Pat’s from back in the institution. His combined screen time probably tops out at ten minutes, but he makes every one of them count. His effortlessly charming presence is injected at all the right moments and just makes you sadder once it clicks that he hasn’t been on the big screen since Rush Hour 3. We’ve missed you, buddy!
Silver Linings Playbook is a sheer delight. Do your part to make it the sleeper holiday hit it deserves to be.
Final Grade: A