The silver linings abound in the impossibly endearing Silver Linings Playbook, a glorious mash-up of a mental health issues-rom-com film that is far too cheeky and whip smart to, surprisingly, be a mainstream release. Director David O. Russell (Three Kings, I ♥ Huckabees, The Fighter) adapts Matthew Quick’s 2008 novel about a down-on-his-luck former high school teacher fresh out of a month stint in a mental health hospital. Hell-bent on “winning back” his estranged, restraining-order-wielding wife, Pat (Bradley Cooper) is staging a Rocky-like comeback physically (complete with jogging with a garbage bag on top of his running clothes so he can sweat more) and mentally, by reading his way through the high school English syllabus. Oh, and there is this “dance thing” too that he has agreed to do with the self-described “crazy slut with a dead husband” Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). While Silver Linings Playbook does rely on some tried and tested rom com tropes, this is a far cry from jam-in-every-underdog-story-cliche film.
The family interaction in Silver Linings Playbook strongly parallels the one in The Fighter. Screaming is abound, whether boisterous or bellicose, and the love for the Philadelphia Eagles binds and breaks and is the sports grease that oils the family emotional machine. Jackie Warner’s pacifist mother character is instantly likable. DeNiro brings in his Meet The Parents experience to bear, playing Pat Sr. with impeccable comedic timing. Much ado about something and nothing, obsessive sports betting, and idiosyncracies aside, the take away message is this is one crazy and crazily non-dysfunctional family that loves each other.
And speaking of crazy, Bradley Cooper channels his ADD-addledom from Limitless with excellent aplomb here, and it serves him well in bringing Pat’s manic moments to life. His portrayal of Pat as a “normal” guy who is humbled by the realization that he has struggled with bipolar disorder for a really long time is thoroughly disarming and easily one of Cooper’s finest characterizations to date. And while mental health issues are handled with enough gravitas in the film, there is also room for plenty of good-natured ribbing, as in the scene where Tiffany and Pat rattle off all the meds they have been on and the fun factor of each of them. Anupam Kher’s turn as Pat’s football-loving shrink Dr. Patel is pure comedic gold, even if it is not terribly true to DSM guidelines (I mean, when is the last time a shrink played a song to “test” whether it would set a patient off, without warning the patient). Pat’s constant riffing on the theme of positivity (Excelsior!=Ever Upward!) is equal parts funny and terribly true to the often mind-numbing platitudes patients in therapy are to “realize.” Speaking of therapy, Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as “damaged girl” Tiffany, with its perfect balance of toughness and vulnerability, is a testament to the actress’s maturity and range. The relationship between Pat and Tiffany is sort of like a a more G version of the one between Marla Singer and Jack in Fight Club, with its wry sarcastic repartee and heart-warming “out-crazy-ing” each other moments. Apparently having poor filters makes for some seriously enjoyable dialogue. And of course, the age old romcom trope of “the dance contest that brings everyone together” is yes, pretty recognizable, but what’s a little Dancing With The Starsaction to propel the plot forward but forgivable and fun.
Silver Linings Playbook has plenty of Catcher In The Rye-worthy ruminations. When Tiffany points out that their craziness is what makes them real unlike the other fake people, one can definitely hear Holden Caulfield talking about phonies. And though there is enough here to ruminate on, the levity abounds, the dialogue sparkles, and one would have to try very hard to not thoroughly enjoy this movie.