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Silver Linings Playbook - movie review

Silver Linings Playbook puts the “fun” in “dysfunction.”

And sure, that sounds glib, but actually, it’s a rather extraordinary achievement. Especially when you’re skirting on the edges of sanity. 

By detaching the family drama from the kitchen-sink, writer-director David O. Russell instead serves up a freewheeling and spikily energetic portrait of manic depression - and a few other pathologies besides. More incongruous still, the whole story is packaged as a romantic comedy. Call him crazy, but it works!

Bradley Cooper knocks it out of the park as the bi-polar former teacher in high pursuit of his new lease on life. After 8-months in a mental institution, Pat is champing at the bit to get back out into the world, win back his wife and thus achieve ‘Excelsior’. There’s just a small matter of a restraining order…but let’s not spoil why.

Pat’s parents Dolores (Jacki Weaver) and Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) welcome him back to the family home with a wary optimism. They put up with his late night rants and daytime – garbage bag wearing - jogs around the neighbourhood, so long as he attends his sessions with Dr. Cliff (Anupam Kher). Though it soon becomes apparent that Pat isn’t alone in his ‘craziness,’ as De Niro delivers his best performance in an age as a painfully superstitious and obsessive-compulsive sports-fan.

Then, literally running into Pat’s life, comes Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a young widow and fellow troubled soul, who is searching for her own silver lining by way of a dance competition. After comparing pathologies, and pharmaceuticals, the pair strikes up a bargain, and thence the makings of this plucky romantic comedy.

Balancing tone with all the skill of a tightrope walker, O. Russell’s superb direction brings remarkable warmth and shades of humour to life’s inherent messiness. And the secret seems to be his uncanny ability to place his audience right into the laps of his onscreen family, without the faintest whiff of judgment or derision. It is the same coup he pulled off with The Fighter – where the action is so richly rooted within a working-class family – though, tonally, this story feels more akin to O. Russell’s 2004 existential romp I Heart Huckabees.

The real surprise, however, comes from leading man Bradley Cooper. For this reviewer, Cooper’s cat-that-got-the-cream routine has always proven more than a little off-putting. But in O. Russell’s hands, Cooper wields Pat’s manic enthusiasm with impressive skill. It’s certainly a career defining performance, and one that is matched step-for-step by the impossibly talented Jennifer Lawrence. Proving she can turn her hand to anything – from eating squirrels in Winter’s Bone to strident slutishness here – Lawrence even manages to effortlessly best De Niro in one of the film’s many fabulously dysfunctional scenes.

With such a strong cast, however, it’s a wonder O. Russell felt the need to close out the film with some comparatively trite and entirely superfluous narration. Presumably, it’s a holdover from Matthew Quick’s novel, yet the effect feels like fortune-cookie wisdom, which is a disappointing note to end on after the film’s fabulously dry humour, and absolutely brilliant dance climax. But this is a minor quibble in what is a sure-fire charmer.

Indeed Silver Linings Playbook is a film destined for compulsive viewing.

Alice Tynan

 

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