SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
Directed by: David O. Russell
Written by: David O. Russell (screenplay), Matthew Quick (novel)
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker
The world is a crazy place. Usually we look for our families to provide the sanctuary and peace required to recharge from our hectic lifestyles. But what happens when your family is just as crazy and broken as the outside world? This is the stage on which director David O. Russell sets his brilliant, hilarious and emotionally stirring new film, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK. While familial strife is well trodden territory for the filmmaker, he makes the material fresh, vibrant, and worth seeing the silver lining in.
We first meet Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) on his first day of freedom after spending eight months locked away in a mental institution. He went nuts after catching his wife Nikki (Brea Bee) with another man (an asshole at that), and now our bold and brash hero is overwhelmingly fixated on remaking himself for her approval only, and not his own. Determined to look for the silver linings in life (with “excelsior” as his personal motto), the recently diagnosed bipolar Pat has made it a goal to win Nikki – who has a restraining order against him – back. Understandably, Pat’s objective drives his parents, obsessive Eagles fan Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) and soft-spoken, loving Dolores (Jacki Weaver), absolutely bonkers. Whilst on his quixotic quest, Pat meets fellow broken soul Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who’s suffering from some grief of her own after the loss of her husband. At first, this formidable pair bond over medication they’ve taken to deal with their pain, but then quickly repel each other with their coping mechanisms. Egged on by his therapist, Pat befriends Tiffany to prove to his estranged wife that he can be a good person. In a moment of weakness, Tiffany offers to help Pat reconnect with his wife, but only if he helps her with something very important in return. Will the scheme work or will their burgeoning relationship explode? This is our hero’s journey.
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK is a genuine crowd-pleaser that will make audiences stand up and cheer. Chock full of real, earned emotions and gut-wrenchingly honest talk, Russell (adapting Matthew Quick’s novel) has crafted a timeless classic. There’s an immediacy to the humor and the heatbreak. He achieves the perfect balance of realism and absurdity in what could have become an overly preachy self-help manual in lesser hands. There’s no exploitation of those dealing with mental illness or those in the throes of grief. Russell proves once again he’s skilled at finding dark comedy and poignant drama within familial strife. And it cuts right to the core.
As this is strong, character-driven material, performances here should earn the film some rightly deserved gold statue talk. Cooper gives an amazingly dynamic and solid performance as a man striving to believe in hope while wrestling with his inner demons. Based on his charisma alone, he’s able to cultivate audience empathy for his somewhat unlikeable hero – which is nothing short of phenomenal. Cooper and co-star Lawrence make for a formidable pairing. Underneath that armor of dark eyeliner and black trench coat, she’s vulnerable and brings even more sparkling energy to the piece. In one scene in particular (which, mark my words, will be her Oscar clip), Lawrence matches De Niro’s ferocity beat for beat. After years toiling away on parts that seemingly demeaned his great work and whose only challenge was when he could cash his paycheck (KILLER ELITE, RED LIGHTS, and the MEET THE PARENTS), it’s a delight to see De Niro show us once again why he’s a great actor. Even though this is mainly Cooper’s film, De Niro gives a tremendous supporting performance as a father trying to reconnect with his son – and not in an overly precious manner. This is the best he’s been in years. Chris Tucker is a revelation playing fellow mental patient friend, Danny. It’s a refreshing turn to see him drop his usual shtick to play a more collected and understatedly funny character.
There isn’t much to complain about outside of small continuity problems and one moment of script contrivance which leads us into Act Three. Nevertheless, I can forgive it its flaws as I too want to believe in silver linings – no matter how the playbook gets me there.
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK plays AFI Fest on November 2 and 8 and opens theatrically in limited release on November 16 and wide on November 21.