Writer and director David O. Russell has always had a ton of talent. He has a great eye, a knack for storytelling, and a bruising sense of humor that he finally put all together in 2010 with the exceptional movie “The Fighter.”
Proving it was no fluke, Russell is back with an equally tremendous effort with “Silver Linings Playbook.”
If “The Fighter” was Russell’s take on a sports movie, then “Silver Linings Playbook” is his version of a romantic comedy, and a delightfully twisted one at that.
The movie stars Bradley Cooper as Pat who we meet just as he is being released from a mental institution. Pat is bipolar and his condition cost him both his job and his marriage.
Determined to get his life back on track and win back his ex-wife’s heart Pat moves in with his parents, Dolores (Jacki Weaver) and Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro).
But Pat still has a lot of problems and his refusal to stay on his medication leads to wild mood swings, unpredictable behavior, and generally lousy social skills.
Pat appears to be stuck in place until he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a young widow who is nearly as messed up as he is.
Recognizing each other as kindred “damaged-goods” spirits, Pat and Tiffany become friends and while the movie does eventually wind up where you suspect it is going to go, there are plenty of unpredictable twists and turns along the way that comes from matching two characters that are this emotionally unhinged.
I hate the term “dramedy,” which I suspect will be used quite a bit to describe the tone of this movie. I won’t saddle it with a one-word descriptor, but I will say the film deals frankly with both mental illness and the complexities of interpersonal relationships while at the same time being very, very funny.
Russell proved to a lesser degree with “The Fighter” that you don’t need jokes to get laughs; just get great actors to play members of a large, dysfunctional family with oversized personalities, let them play off of each other and then the laughs will come.
While the sprawling family in “The Fighter” was linked by blood, Pat’s family, friends, and even his therapist are all connected by Philadelphia Eagles football.
Pat Sr., who has plenty of his own issues with OCD and gambling, has been banned for life from Eagles games for his bad behavior, which, as anyone familiar with Philadelphia sports knows, is like getting kicked out of the Hell’s Angels for poor hygiene.
That little tidbit alone lets you know that Pat’s inner demons are not wholly his own.
“Silver Linings Playbook” is one of those rare, sure-fire crowd-pleasers that is bound to garner a lot of deserved attention come awards’ season. While I’ve given Russell a lot of credit for this movie’s success, it goes nowhere without his awesome cast.
The supporting players are outstanding as De Niro is as good as he’s been in years and there’s even a Chris Tucker (!) sighting as he is drug out of “Rush Hour” purgatory to play one of Pat’s buddies from the mental institution.
But as is the case with any good rom-com, it all comes down to the chemistry of your two leads who not only have to carry the movie but also effectively portray the effects of mental illness. Fortunately, both deliver the best performances of their respective careers.
Lawrence cements her reputation as one of Hollywood’s finest young actresses. She was great in “Winter’s Bone” and while she was solid in “The Hunger Games,” it was hard to tell how much was her and how much was the material. Here she shows off not only her range but her consistency as well. This is only the beginning of a long, impressive career.
As for Cooper, he is brilliant, but I can’t really say I’m all that surprised. Seen by most as a mere pretty face capable of handling little more than broad comedy (“The Hangover”) or action (“The A-Team”), here he finally proves he is more than just a one-trick pony.
He showed glimpses of this potential in last year’s hit “Limitless” and this year’s barely-seen indie “The Words,” so it’s pretty cool to see it all get realized with such a great role.
If I had any critique of this movie it would be in the moments where it puts so much crazy up on the screen that the film can hardly hold the weight, but everything is so satisfactorily resolved that even those minor quibbles are forgotten in the movie’s warm afterglow.
I can say with confidence that the world would be a better place if all romantic comedies were more like “Silver Linings Playbook.”
“Silver Linings Playbook” is rated R for language and some sexual content/nudity.