Silver Linings Playbook (dir. David O Russell, 2012) – Pat, who suffers from bipolar disorder, attempts to reconcile with his ex-wife Nikki. Things complicate when he meets the mysterious Tiffany with troubles of her own.
The uplifting Silver Linings Playbook brings new life to formulaic romance movies with a sharp screenplay and sincere leading performances.
We first meet Pat (Bradley Cooper) at the moment his life is caught in utter disarray. A violent episode lands in an eight-month stint at a mental health facility. Upon his release, all he wants to do is to get his life back together. To him, that silver lining is reconciling with his ex-wife Nikki (Brea Bee).
Things never go according to plan. Instead, Pat bonds with his family over Eagles games, violent broils at 4 a.m. and an irresponsible parlay. It isn’t until he had a little help from his friend that he finds his break through the clouds.
When he meets Tiffany, how things end is foreseeable. Even so, Silver Linings Playbook captivates in its well-told narrative with relatable personalities. Not everyone throws a shelf when they hear a Stevie Wonder song, but so many are damaged in invisible ways.
Director David O. Russell knows the character well enough. His son struggles with bipolar disorder, while most familiar with Three Kings and I Heart Huckabees will be acquainted with his not-so-cool temper.
Given his strong personal connection, he shows careful grace in handling the difficult subject. The result is a complex and realistic character, also owing to the author Matthew Quick and Bradley Cooper’s portrayal.
After The Words, Cooper turns in yet another strong 2012 performance, earning his first Oscar nomination. Pat’s convalescing journey is heartfelt, as he neither overplays nor undermines his depressive episodes. There is a balance of authenticity and comedy, whether in his callous questions to Tiffany or his midnight outburst over the missing wedding tape (a scene that notably plays over What Is And What Should Never Be).
The now two-time Academy Award nominee Jennifer Lawrence plays Tiffany, who is every bit as ravishing. Hiding dejection with her mood swings and blunt persona, she perfects the balance between unhinged and troubled. The comparatively subdued Chris Tucker is almost unrecognisable as Pat’s sympathetic friend Danny, though he does get to retain his funny side. While Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver play fitting parents, the Best Supporting Actor and Actress nominations do come as a surprise.
The actors are only as good as their characters allow them to be. Gone is the melodramatic routine of romance, complication, realisation of true love’s meaning and the eventual white wedding (here’s looking at you, Matthew McConaughey). Pat and Tiffany make a slightly odd but grounded couple, their dynamic personalities going beyond the simple tropes of boy-meets-girl romance.
Of course, Silver Linings Playbook is still a screwball romantic comedy at its very core. But it is one of the best originals in years. Distinct, funny and honest, a sharp screenplay manages to revitalise a stale genre that has been in disfavour for years.