The winner of this year’s Blackberry People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, Silver Linings Playbook revolves around Pat (Bradley Cooper), who has spent eight months in a psychiatric facility dealing with an undiagnosed bipolar disorder after a violent encounter with the man his wife was having an affair with.
Despite doctor’s orders, his mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver) takes him into her custody and brings him home to live with her and his father, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro). The first few weeks are a struggle, as Pat copes with recovery and desperation to reunite with his wife, who now holds a restraining order against him. But then he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a woman with problems of her own. As the two grow close, Pat hatches a plan to use Tiffany to help him win his wife back.
It may not sound like much, but Silver Linings Playbook is a deeply heartfelt and hilarious romantic dramedy. David O. Russell, working off a novel written by Matthew Quick, has composed a film that is just as funny as it is sad. Uncommon for a mainstream production, Russell centres the film on a fairly accurate depiction of mental illness.
Where other films would only use such elements as quirks for their characters, these traits inhabited specifically by characters played by Cooper and Lawrence are very real and just as genuine. These illnesses are not simply played up for laughs; they are what the movie is all about. And with careful editing by Jay Cassidey, Russell does an incredibly insightful job making the audience know his intentions right from the start.
And that is what instantly sets Silver Linings Playbook apart from other romantic comedies or dramedies. Russell brings a very human element to every scene, and makes the audience feel every bit of pain the characters are enduring. They are emotional wrecks, who need to help themselves as much as they need help and support from others. I feel some may be offended by some of the events that transpire later in the film, but never once does Russell make these characters’ struggles seem any less realistic or important to the grand scheme of things. In fact, the whole movie works so well because of the importance he places on the illnesses throughout.
When it comes to the acting, Cooper is a revelation as Pat. He is very in tune with all the nuances of the character, masterfully jumping between tones and feelings with ease. The character is not complex in the least, but the desperation in Cooper’s eyes and his constant fidgeting allow you to think otherwise. Watching him try to overcome and deal with his bi-polar disorder is often hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time.
Much like the character himself, I found myself laughing hard one moment and deeply saddened the next. It is a role that hinges on the actor being able to be up and down at a whim, and Cooper captures that very essence. Watching his breakdowns and slow recoveries is a thing of wonder, and something Cooper clearly fine-tuned more than I expected (especially after how boring and meandering his performance was in Derek Cianfrance’s TIFF entry, The Place Beyond the Pines).
Even better though is Lawrence, who continues to dominate in every role she takes. The moment we meet Tiffany, we know she is broken and in pain. We can see it in her expressions and her body language. And much like Cooper, Lawrence embraces the role and takes on every nuance she can. Her edgy encounters with him are simply terrific, shifting quickly from romantic flirting to angry bitterness.
It is no small coincidence that she brings out the best parts of Cooper’s performance – she is simply electric in the role. And while we are never afforded a true look at what makes her tick, we can tell from every enigmatic notion revealed that Lawrence is really capturing the very soul of the character. This is a deeply emotional role, and she nails it with near perfection.
Supporting wise, Weaver, John Ortiz, Julia Stiles, Shea Whigham and to a much lesser extent, Brea Bee as Pat’s wife Nikki, all deliver great performances. Chris Tucker, in an incredibly rare supporting role, shines as Pat’s hospital friend Danny. Seeing him so dialed out is downright bizarre, but is quite refreshing.
The real revelation here though is De Niro, who turns in his best performance in nearly a decade as Pat Sr. We get hints early on that there is something not quite right about his character, and watching DeNiro slowly unpack those character traits makes you remember why he has two Oscars on his mantle (and forget all the putrid filth he has done since).
Watching his interactions with Cooper and his frequent indecision on knowing how to handle it all gets better with each new scene. We really feel for him, and these downright heartbreaking scenes are the real emotional core of the film. I was genuinely surprised by how moving the portrayal is, but it really is one of many excellent performances in the film.
The sheer goofiness and unrealistic portrayal of Pat’s therapist Dr. Patel (Anupam Kher) aside, I feel the only thing that brings the film down is the third act and eventual ending.
For starters, it is far too formulaic for its own good, especially based on how off-kilter and unique the rest of the film is before it. Making things worse, it hinges on such a ludicrous gimmick that I think the entire audience was confused in unison with one another. I will not get into specifics, but it feels like a slight betrayal of everything that came before it, and all too obvious a set-up for the rest of the film. This could be blamed on the original source material, but I imagine that Russell has deliberately played it up quite significantly. It nearly derails the entire film up until that point, but the chemistry amongst the entire cast helps defuse any problems and shortcomings it causes.
I may sound like a broken record by this point, but I was really surprised by Silver Linings Playbook. It may sound like a typical romantic dramedy on the outside, but it is anything but. The story is great, and the performances are terrific. The chemistry amongst the entire cast is genuine and authentic. It is a real crowd pleaser, and after seeing it, I know exactly why it won the People’s Choice Award at TIFF this year. And, after The Master, it is one of the first must-see films of the fall.
Believe me when I say that you will not regret watching it, this is a terrific film.