Silver Linings Playbook

Cast:
Bradley Cooper as Pat Solitano
Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany
Robert De Niro as Pat Solitano Sr.
Jacki Weaver as Dolores Solitano
Chris Tucker as Danny
Julia Stiles as Veronica
John Ortiz as Ronnie
Anupam Kher as Dr. Patel
Shea Whigham as Jake
Dash Mihok as Office Keogh
Paul Herman as Randy
Brea Bee as Nikki

Directed by David O. Russell

Story:
After spending eight months in a psychiatric ward for his violent behavior, Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) is released to live with his parents outside Philadelphia (Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver) but he’s still obsessed with getting back together with his wife Nikki, whose infidelity drove him to the situation that got him locked up. He then meets Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence), the equally troubled sister of his friend’s wife and she offers to help Pat get in touch with his wife–who has a restraining order on him–if he’ll be her partner in a freestyle dance competition.

Analysis:
Possibly one of the best things to come out of the success of Mark Wahlberg’s 2010 boxing drama “The Fighter” is that it marked the return of director David O. Russell to the spotlight as a director. Now he’s back with a new movie that he also wrote, adapting the novel by Matthew Quick, and while a comedy involving mental illness might seem like an odd choice for his follow-up, it turns out to be a more than comfortable fit for the versatile filmmaker.

Bradley Cooper plays Pat Solitano, a man with anger management issues who has just been released from a psych facility in Baltimore back into the care of his parents as he tries to adjust to life back home. The people in town are clearly afraid of Pat after a violent incident when he found his wife in the shower with another man, but he still thinks that he can save his marriage and get her back. When Pat’s invited to dinner by his friend Ronnie (John Ortiz), he meets his wife’s sister Tiffany (Lawrence), a kindred soul who lost her police husband and started to have problems of her own, who decides she and Pat will be friends whether he wants to or not. When he sees an opportunity to get back in contact with his wife through her, he agrees to be her dance partner. Yeah, we’ve see other similar romance comedies where dancing brings two different people together, but in the crazy screwed up world of Pat and Tiffany, it actually makes some sort of sense.

Despite the obvious starpower of Cooper and Lawrence, “Silver Linings Playbook” is not the easiest sell, because it never strictly delineates itself as a comedy or a drama and the characters may not necessarily jump out at you as ones you’d want to see in a movie. That’s partially why it’s so surprising how quickly the movie sneaks up on you and how immediately enjoyable it is to watch these two characters meet and interact.

Much of that comes down to the casting of Cooper as Pat, and it couldn’t be a more perfect role since it allows him to combine his comedy chops with something that requires an ability to do dramatic acting as well. His affable nature has us pulling for him at every moment, even when he’s having his angry outbursts. In some ways, it’s a similar type role that we might see Paul Giamatti play. Some of the most memorable female roles involve beautiful actresses “glamming down” and in some ways, this is true of Pat, a role that has Cooper spending much of the movie jogging around the neighborhood, wearing sweatclothes and a plastic garbage bag.

We also haven’t had a chance to see Jennifer Lawrence play a character like Tiffany before, a feisty woman who is so smart-mouthed, attractive and vulnerable, and the results are a damaged character who’s able to deliver funny lines on par with a Diane Keaton or Annette Bening. There’s nothing in any of Lawrence’s previous roles that made it clear she could pull that off.

As much as this is a simple premise about unlikely people meeting and getting closer, Russell’s near-perfect screenplay really brings out the complexity of these characters while also establishing the suburban locale and the people live there in a way that feels natural. The incredible cast he’s put together around the central duo helps, especially having Robert De Niro playing Pat’s father, a man with just as bad a temper–it’s where Pat got it from–and Jacki Weaver from “Animal Kingdom” is the perfect antithesis, handling every situation with a sweet smile and the voice of reason. As we saw in “The Fighter,” Russell has a great handle on directing out-of-control family arguments–gee, I wonder why that might be?–and we get a lot of great family blow-ups between the three of them.

The humor goes well beyond Pat’s family, though, and actor John Ortiz, who ably loses himself into many a character role, makes the most of his part playing Pat’s best friend Ronnie, almost stealing the movie with some very funny monologues about his own marriage woes. We also get a rare appearance by the elusive Chris Tucker in a similarly tangential role as Pat’s other friend from group therapy.

The second half of the movie involves Pat and Tiffany bonding as they learn their dance routine, although Pat still has problems at home since his father now wants him around, forcing Pat to decide between family or his chance at reuniting with his wife. The last act of the movie is where it starts to get a little predictable as Pat’s father makes a big bet on an upcoming football game, and forces Pat to make a decision about whether or not to go through with the dance competition.

There aren’t many Hollywood rom-coms that can integrate football and dancing into a cohesive story and Russell’s ability to bring these two worlds together is another reason why the movie should appeal equally to genders.

The Bottom Line:
David O. Russell has turned Matthew Quick’s novel into an easily accessible romantic comedy that pulls you in with its immediacy and the actors’ ability to create true depth of character and emotion within the humor, which is not something that’s easy to do.

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