“Silver Linings Playbook” is, to say the least, an unusual romantic comedy. For starters, the two lovers both have mental health issues, as does the male lead’s father. Unlike the screwball comedies of the 1930s—whose narrative arc this movie largely follows—there are numerous darker moments. Finally, the resolution leaves many of the lovers’ problems unaddressed, so that the standard “happily ever after” outcome remains problematic, at best.
All that said, this is one of my very favorite movies of the past year, film comedy buff as I am. It is full of surprises: one never quite knows where the characters are headed from scene to scene, sometimes from moment to moment. Writer/director David O. Russell, working with Matthew Quick’s novel, has crafted and realized a script that may well get an Oscar nomination for adapted screenplay. And at least two of the movies’ marquee stars will likely get nominated in the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor categories.
The third big name, curiously, has perhaps the toughest role to bring convincingly to life. As Pat, a former substitute teacher who has been committed to an institution following his beating of his wife’s lover, Bradley Cooper emerges from the uncomfortable box of “Sexiest Man Alive” to turn in a superior performance. Pat suffers from bipolar disorder, so Cooper has to show his violent mood swings without making him appear stereotypically “crazy,” a label that most of the other characters readily attach to Pat.
One of Pat’s characteristic moves is running (partially clad in a plastic garbage bag!) in an effort to get in shape and, thus, win back his alienated spouse. Along with what he flatters himself is his changed attitude and behavior, his runs are part of his “strategy,” a playbook by which he will attain the silver lining, despite his cloudy present. His bookie father (Robert DeNiro) and his puckish mother (Jacki Weaver) try unsuccessfully to dissuade him, as do his best friend (Paul Herman) and his domineering wife (Julia Stiles).
Only one person, policeman’s widow Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), seems ready to help him, even chasing after him on some of his runs. But Tiffany, with whom he compares anti-psychotic meds when first they meet, has her own problems. Her playbook involves participating in a dance contest for which she has no partner. She agrees to help Pat circumvent a restraining order and smuggle a letter to his wife if he will enter the contest with her.
The last unlikely element in what Pat’s therapist (Anupam Kher) calls a “very, very manic” proposition involves a “parlay” on which will ride both Pat Jr., and Pat Sr.’s dreams. While it plays out in perfectly predictable romcom fashion, watching the play is enormously entertaining. In particular, the interchanges of Cooper and Lawrence feature several little gems, including a scene in a diner and one in Pat’s family’s living room. Russell continually brings the camera into extreme close-ups, registering the subtle shifts in Lawrence’s expression and Cooper’s wide-eyed instability. He does the same with DeNiro’s weathered mug, capturing one of his best performances in years, here as an obsessive compulsive Philadelphia Eagles fan whose “reality” may be nearly as loopy as his son’s.
“Silver Lining’s Playbook” is correctly rated “R” for “pervasive language and some sexuality.” It would take a pretty sophisticated teenager to pick up on the humor, in any case. The movie contains a scene or two that unnecessarily bloats the length to two hours, as well as a few characters that should have been cut out of the adaptation. Still, I wouldn’t want to see it much shorter or less eccentric. It’s a delight.