This is frustrating. Reviewing this one is just like its two main characters, frustrating. Listen, I really wanted to fully endorse this one give this my highest recommendations, but just like the character arcs of the leads, I was rooting for it and rooting for it and then… well, we will get to that later.
Silver Linings Playbook is the latest dramedy from Oscar-nominated director David O’Russell, starring a resurgent Bradley Cooper as Pat Solitano a much maligned substitute teacher working in a suburb of Philadelphia. The story begins with Pat’s mother, played by Jackie Weaver, picking him up from a mental clinic. See, Pat had a very bad day, one of the worst days a guy can have, in the his recent past. Though therapy, medication and by beginning to use the phrase “Excelsior” as his go to happy-thoughts mechanism (Shades of Seinfeld’s “Serenity Now!” if you will), he is finally allowed back into the so-called world of “Normalcy” .
He is certainly not “cured” or even back to his previous self, as is clear from the beginning played to great effect by Cooper. While in treatment for his mental breakdown he finds out that he has had an undiagnosed Bi-polar disorder all his life, only adding to his laundry list of problems. The moment he gets home he makes it a single-minded goal to get back with his wife, the very one who is responsible for his breakdown. He cannot shake his feelings for the one he loves, pushing aside everything else to try and get back together. He thought that by losing weight while away in the clinic and by reading her high-school class’ reading syllabus that he’ll win her back no problems what-so-ever. As one can gather, this is not quite the case.
At home he has a built-in support group consisting of the aforementioned dutiful mother and his sports zealot father, played by Robert De Niro who finally delivers his most finely nuanced and manic performance in years. However, Pat Senior’s OCD ladened focus seemingly centers on religiously following the Philadelphia Eagles (It should be noted that, thankfully, this story does not take place with this year’s version of the NFC bottom dwelling Eagles, poor Pat Sr. would’ve died of shame…), much more fanatic than simple fan. His duty as a loving father have, on-the-surface, taken a backseat to his Philadelphia football team. With Pat Jr. inheriting many of the problems, especially an explosive and violent temper, that still plague his father. Also trying to help him along is Pat’s best friend Ronnie, played wonderfully by John Ortiz, who invites him to an awkward dinner with his family where he introduces Pat to his sister-in-law, Tiffany.
So, coming into Pat’s already dysfunctional family portrait, is Jennifer Lawrence’s Tiffany who is experiencing a recovery from a severe emotional breakdown of her own. Lawrence has never been better playing the moody, glib but nonetheless compassionate manic depressive. From first meeting one other they begin to find a method to gradually reveal the ‘silver linings’ about their respective tough situations. She and Cooper’s oddball chemistry are the centerpiece of the film, each equally trying to break each other down and help each other up in their own ways, as they are not quite sure what to do with their broken lives. They are positive that they need each for their respective goals at this moment.
They work off each other well enough in scene after scene, building a complicated synchronic relationship inch by inch… and here’s where I have bad news. Right when Pat’s family and Tiffany relationships come to a head, there is a completely out-of-place exposition dump scene which explains what was “really” going on the whole time between characters. This all happens before the final act, which completely destroys the narrative momentum of the film, so many things are awkwardly forced into the film at this point. Worse still this scene sets-up a final sequence where this unique and original dramedy takes a major turn for the conventional, and predictable. It derails the previously well-paced story and unfortunately doesn’t recover all the way in time for the end.
That being said up until that particular scene this one ranks up there with the very best this year. Several scenes between Lawrence and Cooper shine, in addition there are several moments of welcomed truth between Pat and his Father, and his older more well-off Brother, Jake. Let’s make it clear these are people to root for, as they are victims of no foreign substance like Alcohol or Drugs but of their own terrible life turns. As these people begin to understand it doesn’t matter what they were to each other before, the only thing that matters is that they are good for each other right here and now. This feel-good movie nearly earns all of the good vibes it is getting from critics and audiences alike, just have to stick the landing better, guys.
7.8/10 (Uplifting dramedy, with one too many silver linings in the end)