Going into David O. Russell’s “Silver Linings Playbook,” I was emotionally prepared for a romantic dramedy: ready to laugh and perhaps even to get a little misty if the moment called for it. I was happily surprised however, that Russell’s film actually lands in romantic comedy territory. His movie follows romcom conventions pretty closely, but despite being lighthearted and predictable, “Silver Linings Playbook” is still pleasurable.
Like other romantic comedies, the humor in this flick relies heavily on hilarious misunderstandings. The main reason this film stands out in the romcom genre though, is the strong performances of its cast, especially its two leads, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence.
Pat Solatano (Cooper) has lost everything important to him: his house, his job, and his wife. After spending eight months in a mental institution, he moves back in with his parents (Jacki Weaver and Robert De Niro), who want him to get back on his feet and to share their obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles. Pat on the other hand only desires to stay positive and reconcile with his ex-wife, despite the negative circumstances of their separation. He hits a snag in that plan after meeting Tiffany (Lawrence), a young widow with baggage of her own.
As Pat, Cooper impressively performs a delicate balancing act with your sympathy. At first, you’re convinced that the guy deserves his situation because he’s selfish, prone to outbursts, and says all the wrong things. But once you hear about the episode that sent him off the deep end, you start to identify with his pain and view him as a victim of traumatic circumstance. Cooper establishes all of the nervous ticks of a mentally ill person in his facial expressions and body language; while Russell works in conjunction with very insular, anxious camerawork to help you get inside Pat’s head.
In the part of Tiffany, Lawrence displays excellent range, exposing you to a young woman who is equally damaged. Although Tiffany has her own issues and a tendency to emotionally act out like Pat, at her core she is a deeply caring individual who is comfortable in her own skin. Tiffany becomes a positive influence for Pat, getting him to subconsciously walk the talk with his carpe diem philosophy instead of just paying it lip service.
Jacki Weaver, Robert De Niro, and Chris Tucker are also quite entertaining in their supporting roles. Weaver comes off as a sweet, loving mother even though she’s incredibly underutilized. De Niro is given more to work with, so his character shines in a couple of scenes where he opens up to his son and shows a softer side. And I can’t believe I’m saying it, but I wish there was more Chris Tucker in the film. Tucker is very funny as one of Pat’s friends from the mental institution, and although he talks a mile-per-minute, the rest of Tucker’s demeanor is very mild-mannered, which is a nice change of pace from his usual abrasive parts.
“Silver Linings Playbook” is a cathartic experience because it focuses on recovery from mental illness, rather than harping on illness itself. In this flick, Pat and Tiffany find emotional healing through the power of love, and although it’s overly optimistic, there’s something really charming about that idea. Plus, despite Pat’s misgivings, his family and friends are rooting for him the whole time. They all hope for the best, so you end up wanting that for him too. When you walk out of the theater after seeing “Silver Linings Playbook,” you can’t help feeling at least a little warm and fuzzy.