Following 2010’s stodgy boxing drama The Fighter, the notoriously difficult filmmaker David O. Russell returns to the big screen with buzz movie Silver Linings Playbook. A warts and all look at mental illness, it’s a film of unassuming beauty, pottering along with great ease during the two hour running length, but underneath the breeze is a resonating story of strength, courage and a love the likes of which we rarely see on the big screen.
Annoyingly, if you take a quick glimpse at the synopsis, Silver Linings Playbook wreaks of Academy Award worthiness. Adapted from Matthew Quick’s debut novel, it’s the story of Philadelphia, bi-polar thirty something Pat (Bradley Cooper), a high school substitute teacher who’s mother (Jacki Weaver) has just bailed him out of a mental institution – against doctor’s orders – after an eight month residency. What caused him to snap? He came home one day to find panties on the floor, his Stevie Wonder wedding song on the stereo, and his wife Nikki having sex with another man in the shower. Traumatized, he beat the guy within an inch of his life, and since then has lost everything – the job, the wife, the life and his sanity.
Pat returns to the real world and moves in with his doting mother (Jacki Weaver) and gambling addicted Eagles devotee father (Robert De Niro). Down but not out, he’s convinced he can get his life in gear and win back his wife, even though she has sold their house, moved away and has a restraining order on his head.
Along the way, he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a young widow turned sex addict, fired from her job after sleeping with everyone in the office. Like Pat, she’s a little bit crazy, and they turn their unlikely power dynamic into a therapeutic friendship. Spending every day together, the two compare medications, partake in public fits of rage, and find themselves trading favors – and dance moves – to get what they want.
Whilst the young Lawrence has already put in some astonishing performances so far with Winter’s Bone and The Hunger Games, Cooper is the real surprise treat here, finally matching his affability with a character of some depth.
Together thought, they have a natural magnetic charge which drives the film and elevates it from being another harangued look at mental illness. De Niro puts in his best performance in recent memory as the negligent OCD father trying to win back his son’s love. Even Chris ‘Rush Hour’ Tucker is great in a brilliantly muted performance as Pat’s delusional friend. When that guy shuts up, he really has some screen presence.
But all of these performances would be nothing without O. Russell’s eloquent screenplay. Whilst his jolting handheld cinematography suggests child’s play, his words are that of a seasoned professional. Whilst it is no doubt a marketing catastrophe, the script makes the film unclassifiable, vigorously shifting between comedy, drama and tragedy, whilst never waning the audience’s interest, or turning to the quirk/irksome like O. Russell’s god-awful I Heart Huckabees.
It’s nowhere near the best film of the year acclaim I’ve seen it garnered with – the pacing can be off, and it doesn’t really get moving until Lawrence turns up on screen – but Silver Linings Playbook is nevertheless a great movie. With just enough crowd-pleasing sweetness, sexiness and O. Russell idiosyncrasies, it’s an empathetic and moving look at people in dire straits, on the search for a silver lining. Tiffany and Pat find it in each other, and you’ll find it in this film.