Silver Linings Playbook is that rare film about characters with mental illness that manages to be quirky and sad and funny and charming all at once. Director David O Russell takes some serious themes and treats them with such humor and wit that you’ll find yourself giddy from excitement by the end of it.
Bradley Cooper plays Pat, a former teacher with bipolar disorder, who must move back home with mom and dad after spending eight months in a mental institution for brutally attacking his wife’s lover. Pat’s father (Robert DeNiro) is concerned for his son’s health, but could do with some help himself for his gambling addiction and his OCD. Pat’s mother meanwhile (Jacki Weaver) is incredibly patient with both men, constantly trying to broker peace at home by cooking up special treats.
While working towards getting his life – and particularly his marriage – back on track through therapy, exercise, and positive thinking, Pat is introduced to the equally troubled Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a young widow who’s dealing with depression by sleeping with everyone in the neighborhood. This pair of crazies (literally!) trades insults, compares medications, and instantly forms a weird connection.
Russell’s script, brimming with originality and unpredictability, gives the film’s terrific cast “real” characters to sink their teeth into. Even when the film goes into conventional rom-com territory in its second half – Pat and Tiffany enter a dance competition that means the world to her – the characters and their lines never stop feeling recognizably real.
Robert DeNiro is nothing short of excellent as the flawed Pat Sr, and Jacki Weaver is nicely understated. Even the skilled ensemble of supporting players (including Anupam Kher as Pat’s committed shrink) hits all the right notes. But the film, of course, belongs to its fine leads, who never miss a beat. Bradley Cooper, always a likeable presence on screen, is a revelation here, underlining his funny, moving performance with just the right hint of pain. Jennifer Lawrence, all of 22 don’t forget, lights up the screen as the deeply complex, rude, foul-mouthed and yet incredibly vulnerable heroine. Together they’re electric, and just watching them spar is one of the great joys this film offers.
Silver Linings Playbook, under its bittersweet exterior, explores themes of family, second chances, and notions of what is “normal” in the world. Relying on humor – often dark humor – to tell what is eventually an upbeat, feel-good story, the film quickly finds a place in your heart and stays with you long after you’ve left the cinema.
I’m going with four out of five, and I strongly recommend that you don’t miss Silver Linings Playbook. You’ll come out with a goofy grin plastered on your face.