Everybody’s a little nuts. To varying degrees we all have our quirks, and to someone trying to find a way to improve his life and alter his way of thinking, they stand out like a sore thumb. “Silver Linings Playbook” is director David O. Russell’s follow up to 2010‘s “The Fighter”, and like that movie, this is another story that’s carried by its family/community group of highly developed characters and terrific performances.
The story follows Pat, a former teacher who’s being picked up from a mental facility 8 months after having a particularly bad episode where he nearly killed his wife’s lover. He’s bipolar, somewhat delusional, and often gets confused. He attaches himself to a positive way of thinking, à la searching for a silver lining in everything, with the code word of “Excelsior”. While being positive is all fine and good, in his case he allows it to delude him into thinking he can repair the damage of his life with ease. He’s jobless, moved back in with his parents, has a policeman keeping tabs on him, and his wife even has a restraining order against him. Everything he’s doing is under the belief of rekindling the passionate love he and his wife once had, but to all outside appearances, he seems like a kook.
The bulk of the plot centers on his newly formed relationship with Tiffany, played by Jennifer Lawrence (from “Winter’s Bone”). Much like him, and everyone in a way, she has her hang-ups and personal problems, though many expressed through sex instead of violence. She convinces him to join her as her dancing partner in a competition, with the promise of delivering his letters to his wife (restraining order, remember?).
The acting carries this movie, and the entire cast is amazing and in some cases, surprisingly so. First of all, I was happy to see Robert De Niro turn in a really good performance. After seeing that he was in “New Years’ Eve”, I assumed he’d turned in his talent and had given up on acting altogether. Yet he’s very natural and believable as Pat’s father, even having some touching moments being the flawed man that he is. More surprising than De Niro was Chris Tucker. Yes, Chris Tucker is in this and not only is he good, but he’s really funny as well. Even as I write this I still can’t believe it. He’s very low key and hits all the right beats for the character he plays. Jacki Weaver, who plays Pat’s mother, turns in a very understated and nuanced performance, strikingly different from her character in “Animal Kingdom”.
Jennifer Lawrence is great as Tiffany, and she manages to stand out even when acting alongside Robert De Niro (and good Robert De Niro, too). She makes her character come to life very naturally; she seems unstable, but believably so, and none of her actions or expressions appear forced. She more than holds her own both comedically and dramatically with the rest of the cast. Bradley Cooper deserves a lot of credit for the way he played Pat. He embodies the character completely, making his problems seem genuine and not always something to be laughed at. In fact, more often than not, his issues seem dangerous and threatening. But there’s enough depth and nuance to the role that he’s still sympathetic and easy to root for. Bradley Cooper beautifully blends the drama inherent in the character with the more comedic timing the script demands.
David O. Russell’s manic camera style suits the tone of the movie, and perfectly matches the mindset of the protagonists. Sure, Pat has his problems, but then so does everyone else. It becomes clear very early on that his mental hiccups come from his father (Robert De Niro). His father displays certain OCD tendencies, and makes dangerous decisions based on his love of football. There are few characters that are without their problems, for instance, Tiffany’s sister and her husband, despite having a beautiful house and new baby, have a troubled personal life. Pat, who’s desperate to get his life on track, finds himself often at the mercy of such quirks, sometimes to disastrous results.
Despite the often comedic effect of the characters’ personality flaws and social misbehaviors, they’re presented more seriously than you might expect. Pat’s outbursts can get loud, violent, and unpredictable. In one particularly bad episode, he physically harms both of his parents. Despite this, the tone is held steady and the movie maintains its stance as a romantic comedy, of which this most certainly is. It’s smart, and very natural with its characters, their relationships, and their problems, but it still includes many of the tropes often found in your standard romantic comedy.
It’s familiar in its structure, albeit predictable, but that doesn’t make the end result any less satisfying. The especially crowd pleasing climax and finale is a testament to this, and it’s nice to see a romantic comedy this well done. It has heart, but without forced sentiment. It has humor, but doesn’t need to milk cheap laughs. And best of all, it has characters and drama that’s worth caring about.