What It's About
Fortified by the personal-best performances of its two leads, "The Silver Linings Playbook" is a fast-talking, high-energy, very funny look at two psychically fragile adults and their struggle to get their lives back on track. It's an offbeat comedy with dramatic elements, not afraid to elicit genuine emotions.
Bi-polar Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) is released from a state institution eight months after a plea bargain, moves back home, tries to win back his ex-wife, and attempts to return to a somewhat normal life. His nutty family is more of a hindrance than a help to his wellness, but many well-meaning families roll this way. Pat meets a fellow troubled soul, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a young widow coping with her histrionic tendencies and lightning-quick mood swings.
Overcoming hurts and heartaches, as well as their inability to control their impulses, they bond in a most unusual way -- rehearsing for a dance competition.
For the first time ever, Cooper (People Magazine Sexiest Man Alive 2011) really acts, and gives an unfiltered lived-in performance that doesn't solely rely on his charisma and charm. It's his best work to date. This time, he's playing in the major leagues, and Robert DeNiro, as his gambling-addict dad, delivers his best work in years, too. Jennifer Lawrence, already an Oscar nominee for "Winter's Bone" two years ago, is a lock for another one as the tough-but-tender misunderstood dancer. Sparks fly between the couple, and the film really hums along during their encounters.
The supporting cast is solid, particularly an hilarious Chris Tucker as a mental patient.
Writer-director David O. Russell ("The Fighter") is so nimble at dialogue, and he excels at mining the humor that's inherent in our messy lives -- his movies snap, crackle and pop. "The Silver Linings Playbook" is quite a crowd-pleaser -- and if you think too deep about the jumble of personality disorders, wacky family dynamics, and rabid football fans, you will doubt everyone's sanity involved in this project. However, they adapted Matthew Quick's novel into a very entertaining movie that can be discussed on several deeper levels. But if you are just out to enjoy the basic human foibles presented here, that's enough.
John Lennon once wrote "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." That lyric sums up the movie and its universal appeal.
While Russell never sugar-coats certifiable mental illness, he doesn't condescend to the characters who are not normal functioning humans. We are not mocking people with problems -- we're empathizing with them, for the grace of God ...
What Doesn't Work
That said, for such a refreshingly unconventional movie, Russell takes the easy way out with an old-fashioned Hollywood ending. Of all people, you would think he'd avoid the romantic cliches that brings this story to a predictable conclusion.
The film's somewhat uneven -- a few conflicts are trumped up -- and seems to run out of gas near the end. But until then, it's buoyant, bracing, and blissfully life-affirming.
3 1/2 stars out of 4
Director: David O. Russell
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro, Jackie Weaver, Chris Tucker
Rated: R for language and some sexuality/nudity