Movie Review: “Silver Linings Playbook”

Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence move past the hunger and hangovers of their pasts to play emotionally complex roles.

Lucy Nieboer

Wide release

Rated: R

Directed by: David O. Russell

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro

Opens Nov. 21

 

With a light-hearted touch, director David O. Russell has merged the worlds of dark drama and sweet romantic comedy. He’s crafted a touching film of a mentally ill man who finds inner peace while attempting to win back his wife by participating in a ballroom dance competition.

Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) has just spent several months in a mental institution for nearly killing his wife’s secret lover. His wife has taken out a restraining order against him, and he has nowhere else to go, so the diagnosed bipolar patient moves into the dysfunctional home of parents Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) and Dolores (Jacki Weaver).

Pat Sr. suffers from his own obsessive behaviors, including gambling and the Philadelphia Eagles. His game-day rituals involve platters of appetizers and a lucky Eagles handkerchief. Quirks aside, De Niro is charming as a strong father figure while exposing the faults of his character as being closed-off and compulsive.

Pat’s initial burst of mania during his adjustment to the outside world revolves around winning back his wife Nikki (Brea Bee). He vows to be a better man to prove to her that he has changed. One of his first nights at home, Pat has a major melt-down while looking for his wedding video in the middle of the night. After waking his parents and most of the neighborhood with his yelling, he starts spinning violently out of control.

Consumed with thoughts of his past, Pat looks up his old friend Ronnie (John Ortiz). Ronnie and his Type A neurotic wife Veronica (Julia Stiles) host a dinner party where Pat meets his counterpart in madness, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence).

Pat enlists the help of Tiffany, a young widow, to help him reach his estranged wife. In exchange for Tiffany’s help, Pat agrees to participate in a ballroom dance competition with her. As the two begin working together, Pat finds comfort in his new routine. Cooper’s character becomes more likable as the film moves forward, and by the end of the film, we learn to love Pat, despite his mood swings and harsh exterior.

Lawrence is sensual and aggressive as Tiffany. Cooper, too, brings a harsh intensity to his role. Both characters are very troubled and at first bicker more than they agree. As they learn the Charleston and perfect the leaps in their routine, the two bond as dance partners and friends. Although Pat still talks about Nikki, the audience can see him moving on as he masters every move. There is deception and friction at times, but their friendship is touching and comes off as very authentic. Between their extreme sexual tension and circular, frank discussions, the duo creates a delicate balance of madness and allows each other to be vulnerable.

Every character in the film suffers from some neurosis. At times, the comedy of the film wandered into off-kilter territories. Poking fun at one of the character’s “crazy” antics felt like an unfair portrayal of illness. The problems that the characters portray are real. To enjoy this film, one needs to make a clear distinction that the humor written into the script is at times insensitive, but well intentioned and funny. The film’s grit and sense of realness keep it from being out of order.

“Silver Linings” makes the point that everyone is crazy — and whether their suffered ailment is diagnosable or not is irrelevant. Watching this complex cast of characters relate to one another, and ultimately watching two lost souls find one another, one can appreciate the brilliantly acted, raw love story.

 

3 out of 4 stars