Silver Linings Playbook
February 9, 2013 by Zack
Mental illness seems to be a popular topic for David O. Russell, who has been making films about quirky, sometimes crazy characters since his debut back in 1994 with “Spanking the Monkey”. He’s been one of the most consistent filmmakers since then, making some smart comedies like “Flirting With Disaster” and “I Heart Huckabees”; and some interesting, poignant dramas, such as “Three Kings” and “The Fighter” (although both films had their share of laughs as well).
Here, in “Silver Linings Playbook”, he blends together all of his best elements and brings a touching, funny, and sometimes emotional comedy/drama about a man struggling with mental illness, and a family struggling with him. The man is Pat (played with intense versatility and soft charm by Bradley Cooper), who has been released from a mental institution under the condition that he take his medication and get his life back together while staying at home with his parents (played by Robert DeNiro and Jacki Weaver). He believes he is completely rehabilitated and believes in a gameplan which calls for looking at a “silver lining” through any obstacle, and wants to win back his wife Nikki who has a restraining order against him.
One night Pat is invited over to a friend named Ronnie’s house (John Ortiz), and is introduced to his wife’s sister, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). There is an immediate connection but Pat doesn’t let on, he just keeps talking about getting back with Nikki. Tiffany has a few screws loose herself, and after excusing herself, Pat walks her home. After an initial confrontation, they eventually start a quirky bond that leads to Tiffany promising Pat that he will get in touch with Nikki if he helps her with a dance competition she wants to be a part of. At the same time, Pat is told by his father that he wants to spend more time with him watching Eagles games because Pat is a good luck charm.
Because there is a “big game” moment set up for the climax of the film, we can sort of see where it’s going once Pat agrees to help in the dance competition. But instead of this being a by-the-numbers romantic comedy that ends with the big finish, what we get is a study of not only mental illness and how it affects a person, but the people around them as well. In the case of Tiffany and Pat, they’re so good for each other because they’re so bad for themselves. They need each other in a way, even though Pat insists throughout that he is only friends with her and wants to reconcile with his wife. Tiffany is a widow and is lonely, but feels a connection with Pat because it’s almost as if she needs someone imbalanced to balance out her own imbalances, if that makes sense.
David O. Russell pulls together a very effective and moving comedy and proves again why he’s one of the best in the business. Like he did in “The Fighter”, he is not afraid to get us to laugh incredulously sometimes at how crazy family fights can get, or how intense mentally ill people can be–even when we want to be amused, we are amused in horror sometimes.
He is also helped by extremely strong performances from his main cast. I’ve never seen Bradley Cooper so in command of himself as an actor, and Jennifer Lawrence definitely shows that she is an upcoming force in the acting world. Perhaps a young Meryl Streep. De Niro is very likable and engaging as the affectionate but somewhat unstable father as well, and I’ll even throw out that Chris Tucker turns in a nice performance as Pat’s friend at the institution, Danny. Sometimes Tucker can go way over the top and can only be taken in small doses. Here the dosage is perfectly correct, and he is very funny.
Even though the film is full of strange people, there is a universal likability of the characters. Maybe inside we can all relate a little bit to what they’re going through. In the end, after all, it’s all about love. And anyone can relate to that.