#7: Silver Linings Playbook

Director: David O. Russell

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jackie Weaver

The Academy loves to celebrate the serious drama come awards season, but ever so often, a comedy manages to steal some praise from the dramas.  This year’s token comedy up for Best Picture is Silver Linings Playbook.  But don’t label this as some sort of upbeat affirmative action.  SLP goes to some dark places and boasts some of the best acting performances of the year.

Silver Linings Playbook stars Bradley Cooper, in a career-making turn as Pat, a man with bipolar disorder newly released from a mental institution.  Pat struggles with his condition, which makes it difficult for him to control his anger.  Fresh off his stint at the hospital, he seems focused as he is determined to show his ex-wife that he has control of himself and his illness, in an effort to win her back.  Standing in his way, however, is a restraining order that she has against him, until he meets Tiffany, an acquaintance of his ex who offers to deliver letters for him.  The only catch is that she’ll only do it if he is her partner at a dance competition.

That last sentence may sound a bit sitcomy and contrived, but in the realm of the film, it works well.  Pat only seems to have his bipolar disorder under control when he is focused on something, and practicing with Tiffany keeps his mind occupied and mentally at his best.  Plus, it is a clever way of keeping both characters together, while letting the relationship grow into something more than dance partners.

The romance isn’t a fairytale one, however.  In fact, it borders on codependence.  Tiffany has problems of her own.  After the death of her husband, she’s tried to fill the void self-destruction behavior that happens to get her fired from her job.  Together, however, when they’re training for the competition, they’re at their best, emotionally and mentally, and it’s that bond that separates this film from your standard romantic comedy tropes.

Pat and Tiffany’s mental states are both extremely fragile.  Any disappointment or misdeed is magnified exponentially and the system breaks down.  This is where the codependence comes in.  Sure, they have a connection and an attraction (Of course there is.  She’s beautiful and he’s got a terminal case of the handsomes), but they each seem to balance each other out in a way that no one else really understands.

Silver Linings Playbook does not pretend to be a documentary on mental disorders and it’s not.  It ends on a stereotypically romantic comedy high-note, which fails to acknowledge the true difficulties that these two characters will have to endure if they are ever going to be together.  Neither of the characters have been cured by the end of the film, but the story ends on the silver lining that the title speaks of.  They may not be happy all of the time, but in the final moments of the film, they are; no matter how fleeting a moment it is.  Regardless of how the film ends, it should be admired for having the guts to portray mental illness in such a thoughtful way.

The performances by the actors in the film really make this film what it is.  I first saw Bradley Cooper in Wedding Crashers and later, became more familiar with him after his role in The Hangover.  Judging primarily on these two roles, I never would have expected such a brilliant performance by Cooper.  He rightly deserves his nomination, as he is the glue that holds this piece together.  I was utterly surprised by how good he was in this film.  I went in expecting nothing but great things from Jennifer Lawrence, and she did not disappoint.  I always forget how young she is whenever I see her act.  Her performances are the work of a consummate professional, and there’s no one in Hollywood more likable right now.

Robert De Niro gives one of his best performances in over a decade as Pat’s father with mental issues of his own.  It’s a nuanced, subdued performance and De Niro knocks it out of the park.   And as weird as it sounds, among all these fantastic performances, Chris Tucker gives a terrific, limited performance as Pat’s friend from the hospital who keeps escaping, only to go back hours later.  He manages to steal every scene he is in.

Silver Linings Playbook falls into that category of romantic comedy that doesn’t rely on the schmaltz or the dreaded Cinderella theme.  It’s an at times raw look at the relationship between two imperfect people that come together to create an imperfect relationship.  The imperfections are what make it endearing, but it never seems to fall into quirky territory.