Silver Linings Playbook
The Weinstein Company/Mirage Entertainment
I once wrote that romantic comedies are all essentially the same in the end; it's how you arrive at the ending that makes the difference between a great one and a generic one. David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook may have a predictable ending, but the time spent with its dysfunctional, pitiable, sympathetic, and often hilarious characters make it worth it.
It's rare to see a romantic comedy that isn't so clichéd that you can see every plot development before it occurs. Perhaps it's due to the large crazy-on-some-level cast of characters, or a concerted effort to avoid the usual trappings of the genre, but whatever the reason Silver Linings Playbook is a textbook example of how to make a great character-driven drama, full of comedic, truly touching, and often heart-wrenching moments. The characters are so well developed, you feel as if you've known them for years, and every actor without exception gives an impeccable performance.
This should be the new blueprint for the genre.
Unfortunately, Patrick's home isn't the best environment for him. His dad (Robert De Niro) is a diehard Philadelphia Eagles fan with loads of obsessive-compulsive superstitions, and a gambling problem that he's managed to turn into a business. With nowhere else to go, Patrick has to make due as best he can.
While attending a dinner party at his best friend's house, he's introduced to Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a gorgeous firecracker of a girl with more than her fair share of problems including depression and nymphomania, brought on by her husband's untimely death.
The number one reason the film works so well is partly because you know where it's going to end up. Normally this kind of predictability is a mark against a picture, but in this case it's because Lawrence and Cooper have a chemistry on screen from the minute they're introduced. The majority of the film sees the two butting heads. Tiffany's aggressive nature and Patrick's complete lack of a filter when speaking make for some uncomfortable moments, as well as plenty of hysterical ones.
In fact, I was surprised by how funny Silver Linings Playbook was. It deftly moves between moments of extreme tension into ones of high comedy, making you cringe one moment then crack up the next. Like life, it's unpredictable in its predictability.
None of this would be possible if the ensemble cast didn't give absolutely marvelous performances across the board. Cooper shows skill you would have never guessed he possessed after a string of raunchy comedies. Lawrence continues her hot streak of diverse and challenging roles, slipping effortlessly into the skin of a woman who is both excited and terrified at the prospect of finding a new love. Even Chris Tucker, in a very limited role, is nothing short of brilliant.
Robert De Niro, however, deserves a paragraph all his own, mostly because it has been a long time since we've seen him in a film worthy of his incredible talents. Over his long career, De Niro has shown he has a great range, and Silver Linings Playbook puts nearly every one of his abilities to the test. He's given so much to work with in this film - excellent one-liners, a tearful confession, a heartbreaking moment of anger directed as his son, and finally, a short but incredibly effective emotional monologue at the film's climax - and he makes it all look so easy, like the De Niro of old.
Another impressive aspect is how carefully Russell tackles mental illness. The father of a son who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and OCD, Russell (who also wrote the screenplay, adapted from Matthew Quick's novel) makes every character sympathetic in some way. Nearly everyone in the film has some sort of dysfunction, but each time you witness their particular affliction, you feel a pang of sorrow. At all the right moments, you'll feel exactly what Russell wanted you to, even if it's uncomfortable, as in several instances involving Patrick's temper spiralling out of control, but it never feels over the top. The performances are grounded, and it makes the characters seem all the more real and relatable.
Silver Linings Playbook is a difficult film to review in many ways. How do you really describe the feelings it inspires, especially when they seem to cross over so often? The swirling rush of emotions, both good and bad, that encapsulate what it's like to be alive - to meet someone new, to have hope, to cope with loss, to deal with your problems, to open up to people. It's hard to even classify the film as a romantic comedy or a drama because it's all of those things. I guess the best advice I can give is to see it for yourself.