Now available on DVD, “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 was one of my very favorite movies of the past year, film comedy buff as I am. (It was my choice for the Best Picture Oscar, though I was pretty sure that it, like most comedies, didn’t have much of a shot.) 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, devised an Oscar-nominated adapted screenplay. And four of the movies’ marquee stars were appropriately nominated in the Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress categories, though only one, Jennifer Lawrence, took home the statue.
The lead actor has perhaps the toughest role to bring convincingly and winningly 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, the 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 the friend’s domineering wife (Julia Stiles).
Only one person, policeman’s widow Tiffany (Lawrence), seems ready to help him, even chasing after him on some of his runs. But Tiffany, with whom Pat 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 between 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 who 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: see it if you missed it in the theater, or even if you didn’t.