Afflicted with undiagnosed bipolar disorder, ex teacher Pat (Cooper) has spent eight months in a mental facility after brutally beating a co-worker he discovered with his wife. Released into the care of his parents (De Niro, Weaver), Pat is determined to rebuild his life and win back his estranged wife, something he hopes to achieve with the help of a new positive attitude. While fixating on his broken marriage, he strikes up an unexpected friendship with Tiffany (Lawrence), a promiscuous local girl with problems of her own…
Much like its central character, Silver Linings Playbook achieves opposing extremes. A rom-com from respected writer-director David O. Russell, its tone is offbeat and a bit odd, yet the story structure is conventional and familiar. In line with Russell’s early work, it’s rough-edged and has the look of an indie movie, but like his last picture, The Fighter, it functions as a winsome crowd-pleaser with solid Oscar potential. In some ways, it’s somewhat difficult to get a handle on, but at the same time the plot is predictable enough that you know where we’re going to end up (the finale involves both a big, must-win football match and a crucial dance competition). In short, it gives an edgy-yet-accessible makeover to a well-worn genre.
Not that this is a bad thing, mind you. For while you could nit-pick that the tone is slightly uneven, Silver Linings Playbook is arguably the best romantic comedy-drama of the year. As mentioned, it’s already been tipped by many as one to watch come the awards season, having won the Audience Award at the Toronto Film Festival (which is often a useful indicator of future Oscar success). But while perhaps too mainstream-friendly to stand a realistic chance with the sniffy Oscar bods (although, it is about mental illness), Russell’s off-centre dramedy is funny, moving and engaging throughout.
Much of this can be attributed to not one, but two great performances. Bouncing off each other with spiky chemistry, both Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence make the most of some great, blurt-out-what-you’re-thinking dialogue, while judging their frequently rude and manic behaviour in a way that, thankfully, never grates. Plus, given that the former is 37 and the latter 22, you’d never know that there was 15 years between them.
Ensuring that Pat stays likeable despite the fact he could erupt at any moment, Cooper gives what is surely the performance of his career. But Lawrence is arguably even more impressive, even for those of us (hand raised) who haven’t been as convinced by her talents as some critics. Her best showing since Winter’s Bone, the gorgeous young actress had better start looking for a trophy-season dress. As our supporting players, both Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver (best known as the killer mum in Animal Kingdom) are good, if not outstanding, while Chris Tucker (yes, Chris Tucker!) is reasonably amusing as Pat’s inmate friend.
Both a rough-edged indie movie and a winsome crowd-pleaser, Silver Linings Playbook may be the romantic comedy-drama of the year. Expect it to be involved come Oscar time.