Silver Linings Playbook Review: Excelsior!

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.

The Plot:

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.  

The Tone:

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.

The Players:

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

Other Reviews:

Focused Filmographer: 5/5

Cinematic Corner: 95%

Fogs’ Movie Reviews: A+

PG Cooper’s Movie Reviews:  A+

Cinematic Katzenjammer: 9.2/10

Committed to Celluloid: 4.5/5

Dan the Man Movie Reviews:  9/10

Fast Film Reviews:  4/5

Janemcmaster:  Great

Cinematic Paradise:  7.5/10

Marshall and the Movies:  B+

A Constant Visual Feast:  Good, not Great

About r361n4

I'm a student at the University of Washington Majoring Business. I've always loved movies and my goal is to work on the financial side of the film industry. Until then though, I figure I'll spare my friends from my opinions and shout them from a digital mountaintop for anyone who's interested. After all, if a tree falls in a forest and nobody blogs about it, does it really happen?
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18 Responses to Silver Linings Playbook Review: Excelsior!

  1. Mark Hobin says:

    “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.”

    Profane, but totally accurate. This is a David O. Russell film and true to his style, it couldn’t just be a typical rom-com. I really loved the way he turned conventions on their ear.

    P.S. Thanks for showing my blog some love in your “other reviews” section. 🙂

    • r361n4 says:

      No worries Mark, always glad to have blogs like yours to link to 🙂

      I’m not sure if I’m the only one who noticed it, but I really enjoyed the touch of taking Pat’s complaints about sad endings to books and applying that to the film itself. I know some people aren’t really that big of fans of the ending, but I’m not one of those people

  2. Great post, Andy. Really looking forward to checking this one out. Big fan of the cast.

  3. CMrok93 says:

    Good review Andy. I just about loved this film, exactly like I expected to. The cast was great, the writing was always interesting, and most of all, the central love-angle, felt natural, despite a 15-year age difference between the two. That aspect usually bothers me about certain romantic movies, but here, it felt more like she was the adult than he was.

    • r361n4 says:

      Definitely noticed the age difference when they first announced the casting, but I found myself forgetting about it easily enough when I was actually watching the movie. I did enjoy how each character was given a personality of their own though, there weren’t any stock characters I can think of. Hooray for abandoning lazy writing!

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  5. A Dog With Fleas says:

    I’ve been looking forward to seeing this film. And reading yours and all the reviews make me want to see it even more.

  6. ckslifeinblue says:

    Thanks so much for mentioning me here! You are definitely a much harsher critic of movies in general than I am but it’s refreshing and very on-point. Love it!

    • r361n4 says:

      lol, interesting that you say that, a lot of people consider me too generous on here. Because of the movies I see I tend to hover between 6-8 for my rankings, I think the last one that I gave a lower score than that was Ice Age 4 (which was terrible in my opinion…)

      • ckslifeinblue says:

        Most of my movies range in that arena too. It’s interesting because you seem to really rip into it in your analysis but end up giving it a decent score! I guess you’re more generous when it comes to the final grade, kind of like the best teachers in high school! haha

      • r361n4 says:

        Yeah, my philosophy on reviews is very teacher-like in that I believe the most useful critiques focus on what can be improved, so my reviews tend to focus on the flaw. Part of my belief in film is that there is no such thing as a perfect movie, so while those flaws are sometimes harder to find than others, they’re always there The final score essentially represents my overall opinion though.

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