David O. Russell’s Philly based adaptation of Matthew Quick’s witty and dramatic rom-com novel, Silver Linings Playbook, is exactly the type of misfit-misfortune-filled movie you want to root for. It’s a film where, refreshingly, everyone is playing against type.
Bradley Cooper (a smug comedic performer I typically loathe) is in the lead role of Pat, a rage-fueled bipolar man who is freshly released from the loony bin after a violent incident with his wife’s lover. Pat speaks in self-help platitudes, but there’s a sincerity in his desire to change as he dedicates himself to losing weight, keeping his anger in check, getting back his wife (delusionally so) and finding life’s silver lining. Cooper, surprisingly, pulls it off, and one has to wonder if the Philly native saw this as his first opportunity to dig deep. Cooper saw a moment in his career to make a change, and he took it. It makes his character and performance extremely likable.
Jennifer Lawrence – who has made quite the name for herself playing tough teenage girls forced to grow up too fast to save their families in films like Winter’s Bone and The Hunger Games – is for the first time given the chance to play an adult as Tiffany, the damaged young widow of a cop who fumbles through her conflicted feelings and need for affection and friendship and forms an instant bond with Pat when they share unfiltered and awkward barbs about their predicaments and commiserate on their litany of medication diets that have thus far been unsuccessful in curing them of their brand of “crazy.” Lawrence shines in the role and shows us a side previously unknown…playful, vulnerable, sassy, witty and darkly comedic. One scene where the two fight outside of a Halloween showing of Midnight Meat Train is both nuanced and manic, and Lawrence plays it with an intoxicating lack of self-awareness. She’s not screaming, “Bring me my Oscar!” but instead, “I am this person!” Eventually Tiffany brokers a deal with Pat where she agrees to deliver a letter to his wife (who has a restraining order against him) in exchange for his partnership in a dance contest. But, of course, beneath that simple deal are emotions ready to bubble over.
Robert DeNiro plays Pat’s father, a superstitious, OCD, anger magnet of a man who has become a fulltime bookie in the hopes of raising enough funds to fulfill his life-long dream of owning his own restaurant. He loves the Eagles and he loves his son, and in this tender-hearted but gruff and sometimes ridiculous fool, DeNiro has finally found a reason to act again after years of playing caricatures of his former self and picking up paychecks in dumb sitcom-style comedies. He (as well as the Australian Jackie Weaver as his snack-obsessed wife) nail the Philly accent. For the first time…DeNiro convinces us he’s not from New York.
As Pat’s loony bin friend, Chris Tucker (a high-pitched manic comedian who I held no respect for as an actor prior to this) actually comes across as likable and funny…and real…as he continuously orchestrates remarkably calm and well-reasoned escapes in an attempt to support Pat on his journey to healing.
David O. Russell has done acerbic farces before (Flirting with Disaster and I Heart Huckabees) but never has the man tried to play the comedy/drama straight. There’s nothing absurd here, only dark, honest and frank glimpses into the lives of troubled people trying to hold it together with a little bit of laughter, a little bit of hope and a little bit of gambling in service of improving their lives. One has to wonder if the director, infamous for his temper, found in this film a personal catharsis.
Silver Linings Playbook is filled with an authentic and pleasant Philly flavor (so refreshing as Philly is often ill-used or mis-marketed in film), a hopefully melancholic score from Danny Elfman, and has plenty of twists and turns in the story as we are taken for a spin watching Pat and Tiffany’s friendship develop on their way to personal recovery. I can’t think of a better setting for the story than Philadelphia, so often maligned when compared to its more photogenic cousins New York and Boston, yet filled with a community of people madly devoted to their city, to their sports’ teams and to their families. But you don’t have to be from the Philly area to bask in the film’s hopeful message. It’s about being a fan – it’s about rooting for something or someone – your team, your family…yourself. And though the ending was too pat (pun intended) for this cynical filmgoer, Silver Linings Playbook is just too damn likable not to root for its success.
It’s a true word-of-mouth, feel-good film. See it. Tell your friends. Be a fan.
Written by David H. Schleicher