Self-help and improvement are never easy tasks. They take hard work, persistence, and dedication from the individual. That person also needs the support of family, friends, and nurturing care to give him or her whatever they need to make that positive change. That’s what makes the recovery of Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper, The Hangover) in Silver Linings Playbook all the more unlikely.
Pat was a former teacher, arrested for assaulting a colleague who was sleeping with his wife. He snapped when he stumbled in on the heinous act, triggering his bi-polar disorder, which he didn’t know he had until he was arrested and diagnosed. We are introduced to Pat, released from the mental health facility with a new outlook of positivity, redemption, reconciliation and a new mantra, “Excelsior” as a calming, coping device for any future outbursts to remind him that everything will be okay. He is released under court order as long as he lives with his parents, attends therapy regularly, takes his medications, and honors his restraining order filed by his ex-wife Nikki (Brea Bee). He soon discovers that reconciliation is going to more difficult than he expected.
Pat’s friends and family make noble attempts to reintroduce them into their lives and keep his mind off of Nikki, but they are all equipped with their own set of issues. His father Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) is a superstitious, hot-tempered Eagles fan who is obsessive compulsive, his mother (Jacki Weaver) is a worry wart, he’s estranged from his insensitive brother Jake (Seah Whigham) and his best friend Ronnie (John Ortiz) is a whipped family man and new father who is crumbling under the pressures of work and home. And every time Pat hears Stevie Wonder’s relatively ubiquitous song, “My Cherie” it triggers Pat’s volatility. Getting Pat to move on from Nikki is no easy task and episodes come with the frequent and nearly instant visits from the police. Clearly this isn’t the best support group.
Who best to understand Pat but Ronnie’s sister-in-law, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a head case of her own who lost her husband to a tragic accident and is acting out her sorrow by being loose and sexually free. They bond over an assortment of shared prescriptions and still wear their wedding rings, but Pat quickly draws the line at being friends because he wants to remain faithful to Nikki–always with the Nikki! Soon after, Tiffany continues to barge in on his life and becomes an unexpected ally in reuniting Pat with Nikki.
Where the story goes from here takes some unexpected but familiar turns that make it a marvelous date movie–sorry guys, but there’s dancing, but also lots of football and sports betting too–but what’s also catches you off guard is a cleverly written screenplay and irresistible performances by Cooper and Lawrence. Both actors have displayed their talent before, Cooper a TV veteran prior to his Hangover fame and Lawrence in the Winter’s Bone and X-Men: First Class long before her blast off into The Hunger Games, but each sold you on their characters’ ordeals. They will make you want to hug these characters despite both Tiffany and Pat being as approachable as a skunk and a porcupine. For once, Lawrence isn’t seen in some pre-adolecscent role. She’s a woman, comfortable with her flaws and you better listen to her roar or get slapped around disagreeing. If you found The Hunger Games dawdled on too much, this is a role where Lawrence shines, and illuminates the screen with her doom and gloominess.
And De Niro, wow, he found that magic once again and is more special here than most of the caricature-type roles he’s recently played to predictable results. Don’t think he’s ready for Downton Abbey Season 4 mind you, he is undeniably classic De Niro, but the character design of Pat Sr. was tailored to his strengths and because you view him as the tough guy, when he shows his tender side, it feels so genuine.
Wonderfully charming performances are turned in by all in fact, including Julia Stiles as Tiffany’s witch of a sister, Anupam Kher as Pat’s clear-minded therapist, and a subdued Chris Tucker as Pat’s most resilient friend in the mental hospital. The irony with the Tucker’s character is hard to miss.
Director and writer, David O. Russell (The Fighter) is no stranger to family affairs but the foundation of Silver Linings Playbook, lie in the blue collar neighborhoods of Philadelphia. It’s teemed with local flavor, attitudes, and the trademark Philly um… appeal. Characters and town folk are believable, not exaggerated, nor are they so soul-sucking, that they’re as enjoyable as a menthol cough drop.
Russell picks his moments, never riding too high in the joviality or the absurdity of life or wallowing too long in the sordid depression that could have easily turned it into an after-school special. The story was adapted from a Matthew Quick novel but this story could exist anywhere. Silver Linings Playbook has the texture and pieces of a memorable film put together. It’s a well-timed side dish to your Thanksgiving feast, dressed with themes of family, football, and putting band-aids on problems until the next gathering. Despite a few scenes coated in caramel that I’m willing to overlook, Silver Linings Playbook never ceases to surprise the audience in the places it goes to relay a simple tale of love. Good game, team.