Title: Silver Linings Playbook
Cast: Bradley Cooper (Pat), Jennifer Lawrence (Tiffany), Robert De Niro (Pat Sr.), Jacki Weaver (Dolores), Chris Tucker (Danny)
Director: David O. Russell
The Basics: This unconventional romantic dramadey tells the story of Pat Solitano, a Philadelphia native (and Eagles fan by birth) adjusting to life with his parents after spending eight months in treatment for bipolar disorder. Though Pat was hospitalized following the discovery of his wife’s affair and his subsequent attack on man she was cheating with, Pat still hopes to win her back (despite her restraining order against him). But along the way, Pat meets his match in Tiffany, a young widow facing her own struggles with mental illness who shows him that life is a lot like dance—all you need is the right partner. Featuring brilliant performances, an unflinching directorial style, and a script filled with humor and heart, Silver Linings Playbook is the kind of movie Hollywood doesn’t make nearly enough—a genuinely feel-good story about love in all of its forms and all of its messy glory.
M.V.P. (Most Valuable Performer): In order for this film to work, both Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence had to turn in strong performances, and, lucky for us as viewers, they delivered the best performances I’ve seen from either of their careers in Silver Linings Playbook. Cooper was the one I was most worried about, having only known him as the lovable best friend on Alias and the arrogant pretty boy in movies like Wedding Crashers and The Hangover. Needless to say, he exceeded my expectations tenfold here. There was something so vulnerable in his portrayal of Pat, a fear of himself and his illness that only a brave actor could bring to the surface. Cooper captured every nuance with detail and care; we believe that Pat is a man who could brutally beat another man, but we also believe that Pat is a man who is capable of immense amounts of goodness as well. Pat could have been an obnoxious caricature of a bipolar man obsessed with a wife who clearly doesn’t love him. But thanks to Cooper’s depth and fearless emotional honesty, Pat is instead a character that we care about and care for immensely, the broken but beautiful soul of this movie.
Cooper needed a true match in order to bring out the best in his performance, and the filmmakers found that in Lawrence, who should find herself at the top of the Best Actress Oscar race for the excellent work she did in this film. The maturity she brings to her scenes is astounding. She’s by turns laugh-out-loud funny, radiantly charming, and brutally sad, and she balances every facet of this complex woman with a dexterity that I’ve rarely seen even in the most seasoned actresses. In order for this film to succeed, we have to believe that there is something inherently lovable in these two characters, and we have to see them recognize that something in each other. Cooper and Lawrence are resoundingly successful at achieving both of those aims.
Scene Stealer: Robert De Niro shines at Pat Solitano Sr., a man plagued by his own demons but trying his best to help the son he clearly loves. De Niro gives a warmth to this character that adds another layer of authenticity to the film. Pat Sr. is a complex bundle of neuroses, anger issues, and helplessness in the face of his son’s bipolar disorder, and De Niro finds the humanity in that bundle and brings it to life with a captivatingly understated kind of power.
Bring the Tissues? If you aren’t made of stone, then the answer is a resounding yes. I found myself getting intensely choked up on many occasions throughout the film. I was especially moved by any scene in which Lawrence showed the cracks in Tiffany’s bristly exterior. And the beautiful release of emotions I felt at the conclusion of the movie was itself worth the price of the ticket.
Most Memorable Scene: I’m not sure it gets better than Lawrence going head-to-toe with De Niro as Tiffany rattles off all of the Philly sports victories that have occurred since she and Pat started spending time together. That scene is only made better by watching Pat’s face as it starts to dawn on him just how special this woman really is.
Strengths: The greatest strength of this film is its performances. There isn’t a bad or even a mediocre one to be found; even Chris Tucker is pitch-perfect in his scenes as one of Pat’s friends who keeps finding ways to escape the hospital. Each actor gives their character a complexity that makes them feel real, and that grounded reality keeps the film from venturing into the clichés that it could have very easily succumbed to. It’s a rare thing when you find yourself caring about the fate of every major character in a film, but that was the case with Silver Linings Playbook.
The chemistry between Cooper and Lawrence is like lightning in a bottle. They spar with a volatility that keeps you on your toes as a viewer, but as the film progresses, something rare happens with this relationship: It grows. There’s a depth, a warmth, and a believability to this love story that floored me. This is the kind of relationship I want to see on film: one that celebrates the idea that partners shouldn’t try to change the other person but should strive to bring out the best in each other. Pat and Tiffany will never be perfect people, but what I loved most about them is that their acceptance of each other helped them to accept and better themselves. Watching both of these broken people find happiness together was the most rewarding part of the movie. The darkness of the earlier moments in their journey as characters were necessary to make the ending feel earned rather than sappy.
The movie may be dark at times (frighteningly so even), but it’s never bleak. Through it all, there is a strong undercurrent of love that feels genuine on so many levels. Romantic love, familial love, platonic love, and even the love we have for our sports teams are depicted in all of their complex beauty in this movie. And personally, I found the way dance factored into Tiffany and Pat’s healing process incredibly realistic and beautiful. Dance has a special place in this movie, and that meant so much to me as someone who knows how therapeutic it can be.
Weaknesses: I can see where some people might have been disappointed by the “Hollywood” kind of ending. While everything did feel almost a little too “rom-com” perfect, the actors found a way to keep it from blending it in to the thousands of other happy endings found in movie romances. For me, the intersecting football and dance plots worked because they felt organic to the characters and their journeys, but there’s definitely an air of predictability to those storylines. However, after all of the pain we’ve watched these people struggle through, I think a little bit of Hollywood romance and happiness is more than acceptable.
Final Verdict: Silver Linings Playbook is the best movie I’ve seen this year. There’s nothing like a good cinematic love story, and this film features one of the most unique, uplifting, and realistic ones I’ve seen in a long time. This is a movie about the struggles, triumphs, and levels of crazy we all deal with, and it does this with an honesty that is stunning. I don’t often rush to see movies multiple times in theaters, but I’m already looking for an excuse to see this again as soon as possible.