For all matters and purposes, Silver Linings Playbook is a movie that shouldn’t technically work. It struts the line of a cliche romantic comedy so dangerously close that it could wander into those realms very easily. The premise isn’t groundbreaking. Very little about it is out of the box enough for it to be as brilliantly exhilarating as it turns out to be.
Pat (Bradley Cooper) is a former history teacher who found out his wife was cheating on him and ends up in a mental institute to treat his bipolar disorder, as part of a court deal. Eight months later, his mother (Jacki Weaver) goes on a limb and gets him out. His father (Robert De Niro) is an undiagnosed obsessive compulsive Philadelphia Eagles fan. Set on getting back with his wife who issued a restraining order against him, Pat decides to get his life in order. But the disorder proves harder to control at times. It is then that he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a widow with her fair share of problems. The odd couple strikes a friendship where they feed off each other’s woes and troubles in a brutally honest manner, be it by enumerating the drugs they take without one stutter, by going for jogs around their neighborhoods, by making scenes on Halloween outside a local diner, by Tiffany proposing sex to which Pat objects, by Pat believing Tiffany, the self-proclaimed slut is crazier than him, or by rehearsing to a dance competition that Tiffany wants to participate in.
I was surprised by Bradley Cooper who gives a terrific performance. He portrays the disorder his character is having perfectly. The transfers between episodes of mania and depression is subtle and striking. He delivers his dialogue at a breakneck pace and never falters. His performance is energetic, never subdued, is a true revelation.
On the other hand, Jennifer Lawrence, the movie’s acting highlight, gives a tour de force performance as the deeply troubled widow with layers upon layers of concealed rage to her character. The dysfunctional chemistry she brings to the table is absolutely brilliant to watch. You forget for the entirety of the movie that the woman you’re seeing on screen is only 22. She plays a character way above her age perfectly. She portrays her character’s angst, sadness, grieving and resiliency to perfection. She delivers the movie’s funniest moments in moments that shouldn’t even be funny. In Silver Linings Playbook, Lawrence is simply spectacular and has proven herself to be, yet again, our generation’s most promising new actresses.
The movie’s supporting cast also does well. While Jacki Weaver’s role doesn’t have much character development and is more important in its subtlety as the mother who had to deal with her son’s illness for years and the wife who had to cope with her husband’s obsessive compulsiveness, Robert De Niro gives his best performance in years as the father who cluelessly believes in his son. All in all, the people of Silver Linings Playbook can act and there’s no reason three of them should not see Oscar nominations for what they accomplished here.
David O. Russell, who gave us The Fighter a couple of years ago, has to be commended for maintaing the balance that Silver Linings Playbook shows. His knack for having dialogue-driven movies works well here. However, Silver Linings Playbook is not perfect. The supremely strong first half gives way to a less stellar second half in which the movie loses focus at times as it starts juggling way too many things at once, instead of focusing solely on what was making the movie work in the first place: Pat and Tiffany.
So much could have gone wrong with Silver Linings Playbook. The portrayal of mental illness could have easily turned into a PSA. The romantic part of it could have easily become dreary. The dysfunctional family could have easily turned grating. But all of those don’t happen. Instead, the movie has a sense of rawness mixed with like-ability that makes it oddly refreshing. Silver Linings Playbook is one of my favorite movies of 2012 so far simply because it’s not a color-by-number movie. It is untidy. It’s random. It’s all over the place sometimes. But you still watch it. And you go out of it feeling happy and smiling because Silver Linings Playbook is brilliant.