silver lining- some basis for hope or some comforting aspect in the midst of
despair, misfortune, etc. (Webster’s New World Dictionary)
Reading this definition, people can relate their own positives drawn from negatives out of past experiences. Appropriately, that idea is exactly what makes ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ work on its most basic level. Real life is messy and this film shows that in a refreshing sense, sparing none and baring all. David O. Russell created something rooted at a very personal level, developing a film that drives straight to the heart of what it means to pick up the pieces after you feel like life has fallen apart.
Raising a special needs son with bi-polar issues himself, Russell approached ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ with compelling honesty. When undiagnosed bi-polar Pat (Bradley Cooper) is discharged from an institution to start on a new track while living back at his parent’s house, he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), widower and sister-in-law to Pat’s friend Ronnie. Faced with family expectations, doubts, and the ultimate cause of his breaking point (catching his wife Nikki with another man) Pat forms a bond with Tiffany and they both start to redeem some of their dignity while confronting their own serious flaws. Obsessed with the idea of rekindling the relationship Pat is convinced he still has with Nikki and dealing with anger and behavioral issues that Tiffany still faces after her husband’s death, these characters find a common ground that drives the film.
It’s comedy, it’s emotional, and it’s intricate while maintaining a well-paced structure and the common sense of what it takes to make good choices in life. Each performance reflects this tremendously. Jennifer Lawrence exposes a new side to herself that’s rough around the edges and fearless. Her character is raw and harsh, but Lawrence’s career is all the better for it. Cooper is truly a leading contender and drops the surface acting like we see in ‘The Hangover.’ His role deals with significant internal issues and he is able to lose himself in the character to a point where we feel connected and struggling along with him.
Another one to lose some guard was Robert De Niro in his superstitious father role who gets caught up in NFL betting. But his concern for his son while also trying to recreate their bond is evidently difficult, and De Niro delivers a wonderful push-pull family take on the situation. An additional surprise is Chris Tucker coming back to reinvent himself. Playing Pat’s friend Danny from the institution, Tucker is a sweetly funny, gentle character that brings good spirit out of Pat despite Danny’s own efforts to get well. The cast together, also including Julia Stiles as Tiffany’s sister Veronica, John Ortiz as Veronica’s husband Ronnie, Jacki Weaver as Pat’s mother Dolores, and Shea Whigham as Pat’s cocky brother Jake, all contribute to the naturally witty and honest feel of this film.
This is a very deserving film and despite a possibly corny and obvious title, there is so much good to say that the few negatives are not very significant. Particularly in one scene though, following Pat and Tiffany’s diner experience where Tiffany screams at Pat outside of a movie theater, may be too much too soon. Pat tries to cool himself down while Tiffany just observes him after going off and then apologizes. At this point though, the two don’t know each other well enough to validate how both could move on from that experience so quickly. They make up from what most people would reel from for some time, although the sides of them we see are very necessary to show, just perhaps down a notch.
Implementing the Philadelphia Eagles as the family’s home team adds to the great chemistry of ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ and the idea of loyalty to friendship, family, and to one’s better self. Football plays a larger role more in the last third of the film, but much more comes to light in those moments that make this film flow from beginning to end very smoothly. The comedic timing and blunt script that really gives the socially unskilled leading duo their punch tops this film off to greatness. It’s a film about new beginnings and that serves true for not only the plot, but for Lawrence and Cooper who show their talent without reserve, perhaps more so than ever in their careers, credit to themselves and the script.
Russell does justice to the original novel by Matthew Quick, the actors who rose to the occasion and exposed themselves, and to the subject of mental illness and healing after tragedy. It reinforces the possibility of change and the value of companionship and family, no matter how ridiculous, smothering, or superstitious they may be. ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ really is like sports: if you lose, you can never stop trying to win.