'Silver Linings' is just crazy enough to work
Posted November 15, 2012
Intelligent adult-centered comedies with something to say about the human condition are like rare gems among the plastic beads Hollywood tosses at audiences.
Silver Linings Playbook (*** out of four; rated R; opening Friday in select cities) falls neatly into the jewel category.
Though not as daffily inventive as director David O. Russell's best comedy, Flirting with Disaster (1996),Silver Linings is consistently entertaining, with its scrappy, well-drawn characters, offbeat humor and indefatigable positive outlook.
When we first encounter him, Pat (Bradley Cooper) is leaving a mental institution where he has been confined for eight months. Diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, Pat plea-bargained his way into the psychiatric facility after being convicted of violently assaulting a colleague whom he came home to find in the shower with his wife. Since that incident Pat has lost his wife, his teaching job, his home and much of his self-respect.
Even as he moves back home with his mom (Jacki Weaver) and dad (Robert De Niro), Pat vows to re-claim his life and win back his estranged wife — despite her restraining order against him.
Pat's well-meaning but oddball parents are rooting for him, though perhaps not as intensely as they root for the Philadelphia Eagles. His dad Pat Sr. wants his son to join him in obsessive fandom. The older man's fanaticism, however, is fueled by obsessive-compulsive disorder. Pat Sr.'s OCD helps fuel his illegal betting scheme with superstitious vigor.
What nudges Pat toward happiness is meeting Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a young widow beset by low self-esteem. As Pat insists on getting back together with his wife, Tiffany offers to help — if he'll do something for her in return. She needs a dance partner for a local contest. Practicing their moves, they gradually begin to sidestep their heartaches.
Serious mental illness is not portrayed with full authenticity here, yet Russell's script, based on Matthew Quick's novel Playbook, captures a range of eccentricity with comic finesse.
Unlike standard rom-coms, Pat isn't just nerdy, shy or recovering from a break-up — he has a serious psychological malady. Tiffany struggles with depression. Shortly after they meet, they compare the merits of all the meds they've been prescribed. A romantic comedy centered on such troubled souls is refreshingly outside the box.
The ensemble cast is terrific, especially the complex patriarch played by De Niro and Weaver's well-meaning but rattled mom. Chris Tucker is hilarious in a small but memorable, role as one of Pat's institutional inmates.
This is easily Cooper's most multidimensional role. He's convincing as a manic charmer whose hair-trigger rage hits overdrive at the sweet sounds of Stevie Wonder's My Cherie Amour.
Lawrence continues to demonstrate her versatility, having segued from the hard-luck heroine of Winter's Boneto Katniss, the fierce athlete in The Hunger Games to this romantic lead, marked by sharp comic timing and energetic charm. At 22, she already is one of the most talented actresses in the business.
While Cooper and Lawrence have a potent chemistry that's hard to resist, those whose tastes run to more realistic romance may find themselves wishing that Pat and Tiffany had worked through their respective psychological problems before hooking up.
But realism is not a requirement at the movies. Silver Linings gets major points for quirky humor, deft pacing, and complex characters. It's a pleasure to be reminded that optimism pays off and happy endings don't have to be sappy.
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