Hollywood seems to have this idea that when two mentally unstable people meet each other, something magical happens and their craziness balances out as they fix one another through shared experiences. Sure, there are some bumps in the road and usually the protagonists get in a fight before kissing and making up for the happy ending, but for the most part it’s all uphill from the beginning. Sounds nice, right? Well, anyone who’s seen The Fighter knows that director David O Russel isn’t the biggest fan of nice, so when the trailer for his newest film Silver Linings Playbook appeared to follow that basic formula, I was very interested to see how it would turn out. The result is a movie that is almost as bipolar as its main character, but well acted enough to make up for the inconsistent tone by the time the film reaches its highly satisfying conclusion.
Pat (Bradley Cooper) is a 30-something high school history substitute who has just been released from a mental institution for beating up the man he walked in on his wife cheating with. Still obsessed with winning back his wife, Pat moves back in with his parents and dedicates himself to becoming the man she wants him to be through exercise and a positive outlook on life, thus the title of the movie. The only problem is that Pat is suffers from bipolar personality disorder, and the resulting social dysfunction creates strain on his relationship with everyone around him. That is, until he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). Tiffany is another unbalanced soul takes a shine to Pat’s similar disregard for social conventions. The two begin to spend time together, but Pat’s unsupported dedication to his wife (who has a restraining order against him) keeps Tiffany solidly in the friend zone. In exchange for her help delivering a letter to his wife, Pat promises to partner up with Tiffany in an upcoming dance competition, little knowing that his father will combine the results of the competition in a bet that could potentially lose him everything he has.
A lot of movies based on dysfunctional families tend to focus on characters that aren’t quite normal or rational, yet most of the time there is some underlying likability behind the characters that makes them fun to watch. From the film’s trailers, you might think that Silver Linings Playbook is one of those, a la Little Miss Sunshine. You would be wrong. While there are certainly aspects of that which brought a collective chuckle to the theater, the film’s trailer cherry picked all of the quirkiest aspects of the film and glossed over exactly how fucked up nearly every character is. The result was a bit of a joltingly hard-to-watch first half of the film. I feel like I would have appreciated that half more had I known what to expect. Even so, I began to get used to the characters as the plot progressed leading up to a welcome positive turn near the finale.
As a character driven movie, the success of Silver Linings Playbook came down to how well the audience could connect with its characters. I’ll admit that as hard as I tried, it was difficult for me to connect with characters like Pat and Tiffany because of their very nature. Both characters are subject to mood swings, endless irrationality and a stubborn rejection of social skills, which makes it so the audience has no idea what they will say or do next. This sort of discontinuity in the characters is completely understandable because the nature of their respective conditions, but it made it very hard for me to feel like I understood their characters at times.
That being said, the performances here are nothing short of spectacular. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence have great chemistry together, though I personally think Cooper nailed his character better than Lawrence did. Cooper’ stubborn self-delusion about his wife is as painful to watch as it is gratifying to see him eventually overcome. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see a Supporting Actor Oscar nod for DeNiro, who really surprised me as Pat’s superstitious, Obsessive-Compulsive Eagles Fanatic of a father. Jackie Weaver is a nicely reassuring presence onscreen as Pat’s optimistically protective mother, bit of a shift from her downright evil role in Animal Kingdom. I was a bit thrown off by Chris Tucker’s character, Danny, who it felt like was included just to give Tucker a chance to prove that he isn’t just “That Rush Hour Guy”
The Verdict: 8.0/10 Pretty Damn Good
+ Very Strong Performances by Cooper, Lawrence and DeNiro
+ Writing manages to make us like some very unlikable characters
+ A very satisfying ending (many critics disagree with me here though)
– Not nearly as “Feel Good” as trailers would suggest
Focused Filmographer: 5/5
Cinematic Corner: 95%
Cinematic Katzenjammer: 9.2/10
Committed to Celluloid: 4.5/5
Fast Film Reviews: 4/5
Cinematic Paradise: 7.5/10
A Constant Visual Feast: Good, not Great