NOTE: This review first appeared on this site on September 9, 2012 after I saw it at the Toronto Film Festival. I am reprinting it here as it hits theaters this weekend.
Thank you David O. Russell. Thank you for making a film that realizes a world with real emotions while at the same time acknowledging we don’t have to always wade through shit and wallow in despair to explore it. Thank you for Silver Linings Playbook, a film that does deal in cliches but doesn’t shy from tough subjects.
I’m not saying a film has to be uplifting to be good and those that are depressing are bad. Recent films such as Amour and Shame prove otherwise. I do, however, need more than sad lives and empty existence to keep me emotionally invested. Give me deeper characters not defined solely by their morose predicaments. Give me love, give me character, give me ambition. Silver Linings Playbook wears its heart on its sleeve and its characters will earn your compassion based on who they are, not the situations they find themselves in. In short, it’s excellent.
Based on Matthew Quick’s debut novel of the same name, the key to this film’s success is the balance of honest, real-deal humor alongside the ups and downs of the characters. Silver Linings Playbook is just as funny as it is emotional and both aspects hit home with authenticity, despite what are several obvious turns in the film’s plot. We’re not watching a groundbreaking movie as much as we’re watching one with a soul. A connection is made with the characters that can’t be faked and in today’s films too often is.
Bradley Cooper stars as Pat Solitano and we first meet him after an eight month, court-ordered stay in a state institution. His mother (Jacki Weaver) picks him up and is taking him home. Refreshed, renewed, but still bearing plenty of rough edges due to the incident that landed him where he was, Pat is determined to turn his life around and repair his broken marriage… that is if his wife, who has a restraining order against him, is willing to give him a chance.
Pat’s journey to self-betterment is encouraged by his parents, with his mother there for support and his Philadelphia Eagles-obsessed father (Robert De Niro) looking at him as a good luck charm as much as he does a son, sitting home each Sunday, banned from the Eagles’ stadium for life for fighting. To say the two were cut from the same cloth would be to state the obvious.
A twist in Pat’s path arrives in the form of Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), sister to the wife of one of Pat’s friends and a girl with troubles of her own. Before the two meet the film already has a tight hold over the audience, but once their friendship begins to take shape there is no letting go.
Bradley Cooper is best known for his smart ass comedic roles, but with The Place Beyond the Pines and now Silver Linings he’s clearly turning the corner and this is the best he’s been. You feel his rage, joy and frustration as he deals with his bi-polar disorder. Certain things trigger repressed emotions and feelings he’d rather forget, but when he’s with Tiffany things begin to melt away as both are dealing with their own pains and begin finding comfort in one another.
Lawrence has already earned an Oscar nomination for her performance in 2010’s Winter’s Bone, but the question remained as to where her career would go from there. Roles in X-Men: First Class and The Hunger Games didn’t elevate her status as much as they served as blockbuster studio fare to pad the bank account before the next meaty role came along for her to sink her teeth into. It’s here and Lawrence is a knock out in Silver Linings and the stand out of the picture. Tiffany is a damaged soul looking for anyone to love and appreciate her and, despite her past, she’s willing to continually put her heart on the line to find what her heart needs.
In supporting roles, Jacki Weaver is fantastic and this is the best I’ve seen from De Niro in more years than I care to count. Chris Tucker plays a friend of Pat’s from the institution and is a welcomed inclusion in a role that benefits from the actor’s charisma, contributing far more than rudimentary comedic relief. John Ortiz, Julia Stiles and Anupam Kher also bring their own special touches to their characters that help bring a freshness to each scene as it builds and builds to a climax you will probably see coming, but your heart will be racing nevertheless.
After all the emotions Silver Linings takes you through — the highs and lows — it’s greatest aspect beyond performances, direction and any other kudos I could throw at it, is that while cliche and occasionally predictable, it never loses sight of reality.
In the midst of it all a character says, “The world will break your heart 10 ways ’til Sunday,” but this is said as a fact, not as an excuse. The characters in Silver Linings Playbook are fully aware life can drown you in shit every day of the week, but they refuse to let that realization get them down. This is a life lesson we could all benefit from.