Title: Silver Linings Playbook
Director: David O. Russell
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker, Anupam Kher, John Ortiz, Shea Whigham, Julia Stiles, and Brea Bee
David O. Russell’s sixth film since his 1994 debut film “Spanking The Monkey,” “Silver Linings Playbook” is a refined version of Russell’s family-centric comedy/dramatic oeuvre. Despite the Academy Award nominations, Russell’s work had taken a dip in quality with his last effort “The Fighter” in 2010 but with “Silver Linings Playbook,” Russell announces his return to lighter romantic comedy fair with a pension for the dysfunctional family drama. The film is a keen look at mental health as it’s willing to laugh at itself from time to time.
The film opens with Pat (Bradley Cooper) as he’s released from a mental institution in Baltimore. He struggles to get his life back together after an incident involving finding his wife cheating on him. In his former life, he was a high school teacher from Philadelphia. As he tries to fit back into his family and social life, Pat finds himself continuously confronted by his past, mental problems, and estranged wife. But when Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a recently widowed woman who is trying to find mental stability, he finds someone special as they try to figure out how to learn to be happy again.
As clichéd as the premise sounds, Russell and crew do a fine job finding the idiosyncrasies that make “Silver Linings Playbook” something special. This is a film built on awkwardness, whether it be the awkwardness between its characters or the awkwardness between the audience and the film itself, it unfolds with a certain nervousness that reflects the journey with Pat and Tiffany to good mental health.
The only way to navigate through uncertainty is through the film’s supporting cast including Robert DeNiro and Jaki Weaver as Pat’s parents, Julia Stiles and John Ortiz as Tiffany’s sister and brother-in-law, and Chris Tucker as Pat’s friend from the mental institution. The supporting cast gives enough compassion and pathos to the main characters that you almost feel as if the audience is the missing link between success and failure of these characters and the film itself. Russell does a fine job finding the balance between honest dramatic moments and outright comedy. The film doesn’t undercut each element but rather letting them play out in a wonderful melding of irony and sympathy.
In many ways, Russell is at his best when he looks to comedy to define the truth behind the emotional side of his characters. Early in his career, Russell took the approach of presenting the seriousness of mental health with quirky comedy. Whether it be with a man trying to find his birth parents by not alienating his adopted ones in his 1996 film “Flirting With Disaster” or as an examination of a small sect of suburbanites trying to find mental solidity after a corporate big-box store threatens to ruin their way of life in his 2004 film “I *Heart* Huckabees,” Russell seems to find comedy in tragedy. It was only with his 2010 effort did Russell not use comedy and awkwardness to his advantage, “The Fighter” is when Russell cashed in his sensibility to make an inspiring crowd-pleaser.
There is a certain dynamic flair with “Silver Linings Playbook” that is typified with the performances and on-screen chemistry between Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence always seems to have it in her to play beyond her years as evidenced in her 2010 performance in “Winter’s Bone” and even in her other 2012 performance as Katniss Everdeen in the widely popular “The Hunger Games.” She is up to snuff in “Silver Linings Playbook.”
The big surprise is the emotional and comical performance from Bradley Cooper. He usually comes off as smug or smarmy as he tries to compensate for being charming and even at times comes off as vapid as evident in his 2012 performance in “The Words.” But in “Silver Linings Playbook,” Cooper comes off as broken and damaged as he tries to get his life back together. There was never a doubt that he wasn’t struggling to get his swagger back as he tries to control his violent mood swings. He plays a bi-polar character very well as moments appear to be in good standing but perceived by others as disastrous. Bradley Cooper is a revelation!
As clichéd as “Silver Linings Playbook” appears to be, Russell does a fine job making the material pop with his fluid and dynamic camera work. The film serves as a reminder that during the highs and lows of life, it’s important to stay the course to mental stability with some help from your family and friends. This feels as if this is the real silver lining in life, tragedy, and cinema.