There are a lot of quirky romantic comedies. Most of them feature a protagonist who has some kind of weird yet harmless attribute, and the protagonist (normally a man) meets a woman with some equally weird yet harmless attribute. The two of them go through a series of strange adventures, at the end of which they inevitably fall in love and realize they are perfect for each other.
These movies usually annoy me to no end. Silver Linings Playbook is essentially one of these movies. Only it’s not annoying.
The movie stars the now bona fide A-lister Bradley Cooper, who plays Pat. He just got out of a mental institution, where he was placed by order of the court after he almost killed his wife’s lover when he caught them in the shower together. He soon meets Tiffany (played by the ever-present Jennifer Lawrence), whose husband has recently died. The two forge a friendship, as they lean on each other and learn how to let go of the past.
Silver Linings Playbook works on every level, from the story to the acting, and the originality of it all makes it one of the best films of 2012, as David O. Russell serves up what could end up being a surprise Oscar contender. Russell, whose most recent film The Fighter garnered plenty of Academy Awards attention (although he’s probably best known for his rant on Lilly Tomlin while filming the 2004 film I Heart Huckabees that made the rounds on YouTube around that time), does a terrific job keeping the characters flawed yet completely sympathetic, as he examines love after loss and what it really means to let go of something. The film is full of memorable little quirks (and not the aforementioned annoying kind). A scene in which Bradley Cooper goes to a dressy dinner party in an Eagles jersey comes to mind.
The supporting cast is perfect. Robert De Niro, who has spent most of the past decade and a half playing some kind of pale Robert De Niro parody, delivers a sincere and extremely human portrayal of Pat’s father, the Philadelphia Eagles obsessed (and more than a touch OCD) Pat, Sr. De Niro brings back his magic, as he tries to connect with a son that he was never really that close with. He is funny, but never parodies himself, and he brings a large amount of heart, to a character that could easily be one-dimensional. Jacki Weaver does a great job as well, playing Pat’s ever-concerned mother Dolores.
The real reason to watch this film is Bradley Cooper, as he shows a range that he had not shown prior to this. At times, he borders on scary and dangerous, with his just recently diagnosed bipolar disorder shining through, and he is at other times sweet and vulnerable. His chemistry with Jennifer Lawrence is palpable—Lawrence does a good job as well, although (and I am sure to get some flack from the diehard Lawrence fans out there, of which there are many) her acting tends to fall in the “monotone and emotionless” or “screaming for screaming’s sake” category. A line she delivers flatly to Bradley Cooper, “That’s an emotion,” is particularly ironic. But she doesn’t detract from the movie.
Although the movie is ultimately a romantic quest between the two leads, it is, at the heart of it, a story about two lost souls and an unlikely friendship. Pat and Tiffany genuinely care about each other as human beings. Much of the movie revolves around Pat begrudgingly entering a dance competition on Tiffany’s request (he owes her a favor, as Tiffany plays Pat’s liaison to his wife Nikki, since he cannot communicate with her directly because of a restraining order). Not only does the dancing culminate in an extraordinarily memorable sequence that combines all of the plots of the film in one final moment, but the scenes of Pat and Tiffany dancing together are quite touching, and show just the meaningfulness of their friendship.
Definitely go see this movie. Despite some minor flaws, Silver Linings Playbook has it all. It is charming, it has plenty of fresh performances, and it will leave you with a huge smile on your face. And it is Chris Tucker’s first non-Rush Hour movie in nearly fifteen years. What more could you want?
Movie Review by Mike Danner