There is genuine joy in seeing dysfunctional characters fight their way through this messy thing called life and ascertain their fair share of happiness in spite of their own efforts to sabotage it. David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook is a film centered on a family abundant with dysfunction. It is a romantic comedy that revels in the uglier, more chaotic ambit of relationships. It’s raw, funny, frenzied and, at times, deeply moving.
Pat (Bradley Cooper) has just been discharged from an 8 month stay at a mental institution; an arrangement made in a plea bargain as a result of him brutally attacking a man that was having an affair with his wife. He has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and is prone to fits of rage. Upon release, he moves back in with his parents (Jackie Weaver & Robert De Niro) and is hell bent on getting his life in order; including winning back the trust and love of his wife. Pat soon meets Tiffany (a terrific Jennifer Lawrence) who has recently been widowed and struggles with social/behavioral issues of her own. There is an immediate, visceral spark between them but Pat withdraws in an effort to maintain his focus on his estranged wife. Tiffany eventually sells Pat on the idea of her helping him win back his wife if he will help her in a dance contest. If that sounds like a romantic comedy trope I would agree. The truth is, the film starts out feeling very indie-film and then quickly becomes quite conventional but only in terms of plot. The richness and rewards are found in the biting, unconventional dialogue as well as the terrific performances by all. Director Russell knows how to stir a scene to chaotic heights as well as shift deftly between laughs and tears. Like all of his films, there is a kind of manic energy that permeates throughout. That energy is sometimes suppressed and sometimes released but it’s always there, simmering. Bradley Cooper is excellent as the wounded Pat struggling to remain positive amid the turmoil. I really enjoyed seeing Robert De Niro, who’s OCD and struggles with anger as well, in a role that is decidedly more restrained (this is not the mugging, Meet the Parents De Niro) and, in several scenes, very touching. The movie, however, belongs to Jennifer Lawrence who shows tremendous range as the deeply troubled Tiffany. She harbors guilt and lashes out when threatened but her love for Pat is palpable and real; with him she becomes vulnerable. The film concludes in, again, a very conventional way but I thoroughly enjoyed it anyway because you really love these two, broken people. You just do. Silver Linings Playbook is one of the best films of 2012.