David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook is the kind of film that dares you to invest yourself in it. It is smart, it is funny, and it is a romantic comedy with some serious issues. It is also categorically one of the most engrossing film experiences in recent memory, littered with fantastic performances and feeling, for every moment of its runtime, real. Russell's script doesn't want anyone in the audience wandering on its periphery; like it or not, everyone is going along for the ride, and no one should be disappointed by the end.
Bradley Cooper stars as Pat, recently released from a mental hospital in Baltimore after eight months, coming home to live with his parents. He is diagnosed bi-polar, and upon his release is convinced that he's going to reunite with his estranged wife Nikki. Cooper is nominated for an Oscar for best actor, and it's easy to see why mere minutes into the film- he lives and breathes this character. Cooper completely disappears into the role, giving Pat's painful struggle with his illness and his attempts to cope with the world a vivid and uncompromising reality. His world is turned upside down, however, when he meets Tiffany (the mesmerizing Jennifer Lawrence), recently widowed and trying to find her own way in the world.
Lawrence is fresh off a Golden Globe win for her part and is also up for an Oscar, an award she may be poised to win on the strength, beauty, anger, and passion she imbues in her character. Already one of the most versatile actresses in this generation, she goes far beyond any of her prior work here. The chemistry between herself and Cooper is also absolutely white-hot, lending a tremendous dose of sexual tension to the entire film. The pain and bitterness beneath both characters is deeply seeded, but these two find one another at the perfect moment, when they most need one another, and every minute of their evolving feelings is deeply felt.
Despite the two fantastic leads, it is Robert DeNiro as Pat Sr. who absolutely steals the film, playing a character so tormented and emotionally realized that even the iconic De Niro is completely unrecognizable inside the character. This is easily his most memorable role in years. Jacki Weaver shines beside him as his wife and Pat's mother Dolores, and both of them are up for best supporting statues at the Oscars.
The brilliant performances are only a shade of why Silver Linings Playbook is one of the best pictures of the year, however. David O. Russell's script and direction take what might have been something far less interesting or engrossing and transforms it into a brutally tragic slice of reality, so beautifully realized in every single shot of the film. Russell puts the camera right in each actor's face, removing any semblance of choice for the audience to emotionally invest itself in these characters- every nuance between them explodes on the screen, allowing each already magnificent performance to transcend great and become truly extraordinary. Using the camera to so invest the audience in the film could have backfired, but with such incredible performances and a top-notch script it comes off brilliantly.
If anything is lacking it is a sense of actual tension in the love story between Cooper and Lawrence, since it becomes obvious early on that it isn't a matter of if they will get together, it is when. The script manages to overcome this somewhat with a story arc about his father betting on football, but the tension that creates is only minor and is equally predictable. Even knowing what is coming doesn't detract from the experience, however, because of how engaging and inviting the film is. This is a family absolutely riddled with problems, but they love one another, and there is a deep-seeded loyalty here that is as apparent as their love of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Little could be done or said that could have made Silver Linings Playbook a better film. It was predictably rom-com-ish in its presentation, despite its off-kilter characters, but this was never a detriment to the film. No matter the genre or the overtold patterns therein, any film that can showcase characters this fully realized is a magnificent one, and this film deserves every accolade being sent its way. Five out of Five Stars.
By Nicholas Haskins
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