Silver Linings Playbook, the latest film from writer/director David O. Russell (Three Kings, The Fighter), is a unique and extraordinary cinematic gift. Whether you are positive and optimistic about life’s challenges and the possibility of second chances, or cynical and contrary, this film tells a relatable and endearing human story. While some there are some heartbreaking dramatic developments, this remains a genuinely funny crowd-pleaser that is not only brilliantly crafted but challenges the conventions of the genre it adopts and respects its audience. Actively shot, reminiscent of the central protagonist’s erratic mental state, Silver Linings Playbook remains realistic and optimistic while unashamedly embracing the flaws (the 'crazy') present in each of us.
The gifted director, who has recently received his second straight Academy Award nomination, has created one of the densest, most intelligently conceived family dramas in recent years. It is a charming tale about a broken soul clinging to the hope of rekindling a past life. But to find the silver lining he is searching for, he has to let go and believe that his life still has some surprises in store. Along comes a romantic distraction that could not be more intriguing. Silver Linings Playbook has also received nominations for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay (from Matthew Quick’s novel of the same name), and for the first time since Reds (1981), nominations in each of the four acting categories. Bradley Cooper (astoundingly immersed), Jennifer Lawrence (limitlessly talented), Robert De Niro (rarely better) and Jackie Weaver (suitably motherly) range from very good to phenomenal – and succeed in bringing the most out of this unforgettable character study that tackles issues dealing with mental illness, the value of family and reluctant new relationships in a celebratory and emotionally involving package.
Patrick Solitano (Cooper) has recently been released from a mental health facility after an eight-month stint following a violent incident involving his wife, Nikki. He returns home, now diagnosed with bipolar disorder, to live with his mother, Dolores (Weaver), and father, Pat Sr. (De Niro), and hopes to resurrect his marriage. Despite his parents’ evident concern, not to mention the restraining order placed against him, Pat remains convinced he will win back the woman he still believes is in love with him. Pat decides to try anything to prove to her he is a new man. He runs daily, sees a therapist, and pays old friends a visit, while bonding with his father – a superstitious, undiagnosed OCD sufferer who has recently started up a bookmaking racket in the hopes of saving up enough money to build a restaurant – over the Philadelphia Eagles. But, the biggest influence on Pat’s life is the beautiful Tiffany (Lawrence), a young widow dealing with her own problems. Reciprocating favours, together they find sought after stability and discipline in their lives, and even something unexpected.
There is a relentless manic energy to this film. These characters talk fast (usually over each other) and Pat, in particular, often says the wrong thing. He divulges into bumbling rants, and his raw emotions change from one extreme to another on a dime. There are a handful of sure-to-be-classic sequences – from Pat and Tiffany’s heated D&M in a diner, to the verbal showdown between the entire cast in the Solitano’s living room – but Russell never loses sight of the importance of revealing new layers about the characters, while continuing to develop the story.
Silver Linings Playbook is infinitely rewarding, full of surprising developments and bizarre moments. The characters are interesting – and feel like people we know intimately by the end of the film – and even the amusing supporting characters are well developed. But it is the signature cast that makes this a must-see. ALL of them deserve any accolades that come their way.
Cooper is a revelation. Pat's mind is always racing, he speaks without a filter, asks inappropriate questions, and when he gets an idea in his head, he goes for it rarely with a second thought. Lawrence is the youngest woman to ever receive two Best Actress nominations - and I feel is a deserving winner here. Her character is vulnerable, but she projects a tough, stubborn exterior. She immediately warms to Pat, unable to accept that he believes she is crazier than he is, and evidently feels for his situation. Lawrence has a number of exceptional emotional scenes, and the pair share great chemistry. I can’t remember the last time De Niro was this good? Maybe Heat (1995).
The editing is sharp and the photography is wild and energetic. Who knows why Russell decides to use some of the odd angles that he does, but it matters little, because they work. The excellent score (similar to Johnny Greenwood’s score for The Master), like the jolting zooms and sweeps, seems at times to accompany what is churning over in Pat’s mind. Russell must be commended for drawing out these phenomenal performances and ensuring that his film is both dramatically moving and amusing simultaneously. This is some screenplay. The various strands are brought together in masterful fashion, with key information underplayed until it becomes significant.
Silver Linings Playbook is a strange film. It is not what you expect at all, and while this can result in a viewer being torn one way or the other, I embraced everything about it. I love that it is more about family values and relationships than it is about mental illness (addressed initially, but never forgotten). While there is an optimistic finale, we understand that these people still have a few pieces to put back in place, but we leave the cinema content that these characters have earned their silver lining.
Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22
Andy Buckle is a passionate Sydney-based film enthusiast and reviewer who has built a respected online voice at his personal blog, The Film Emporium. Andy will contribute reviews, features and be our resident film festival, and awards expert.