Combining equal measures of comedy, romance, and drama (with a tasty concoction of bi-polar disorder, ballroom dancing, and the Philadelphia Eagles as a chaser), David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, based on the novel by Matthew Quick, is one of those kitchen sink movies that, by all rights, shouldn’t work.
But the strange brew of genres and themes melds to create a film that’s as sublime as they come, driven by exceptional performances (it’s first movie since 1981’s Reds to snag Oscar nods in all four acting categories) and screenplay that tackles psychological issues as realistically and beautifully as anything since As Good As It Gets.
After finishing up his stint at a mental health facility in Baltimore, Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) comes back home to add his bi-polar disorder to a household that already includes borderline OCD, in the form of Pat Sr. (Robert DeNiro). A lifelong Eagles fan, Pat Sr. has lost his job and now relies on bookmaking for his income. The Cleavers, this ain’t.
Pat Jr. is still obsessed with patching things up with his estranged wife (the backstory is presented brilliantly), but in doing so, he trips on her friend’s sister Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a dancer who has a bevy of psychological issues, too.
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The rest of the plot is too intricately well-layered to detail here, but suffice to say that everything comes to a head in the final act, and that along the way the script gives both Cooper and Lawrence plenty of room to turn in career-defining performances.
Cooper, leaving recent disappointments like The Words and Hit and Run far behind him, shows that he now has the chops to handle any role that’s thrown his way. His passive-aggressive portrayal is a thing of beauty to watch; the pretty boy from The Hangover flicks is all grown up.
It’s Lawrence, though, who steals Silver Linings Playbook and makes it her own. In the two years since her powerhouse performance in Winter’s Bone, we’ve seen her as a fledgling superhero and Katniss Everdeen. Turns out those were the equivalent of a weekend hobby for her; she’s officially the real deal and has the delicate sensibilities required to make a belligerent recovering sex addict one of the most sympathetic and memorable characters to hit theaters this year. And the pair’s electric chemistry bodes extremely well for their reunion in Serena, due later this year.
Silver Linings Playbook is able to overcome a backbone that’s ultimately a bit clichéd and emerge as a heartfelt, hilarious, and entirely engaging film. There’s no need for a silver lining when the entire thing is solid gold.
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@popcollin is the resident movie critic at Essex Cinemas in Essex, VT, and Cumberland 12 in Plattsburgh, NY.