Funny, Honest and Playful, Silver Linings a Heartfelt Stunner
There is something euphoric about a movie that consistently hits all the right beats even as it teeters on the brink of falling into outright chaos. Itís a high-wire act, a feat of balancing that allows the viewer to feel something of an adrenaline-filled contact high watching it succeed, every facet brining joy and happiness in some part because the knowledge that it could all come crashing to earth at any second leaving all the goodwill shattered into a million pieces is constantly there.
Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook
© The Weinstein Company
That is the feeling generated by Silver Linings Playbook. David O. Russellís sensational adaptation of Matthew Quickís novel borders on extraordinary. More than that, much like two of the filmmakerís past successes, Three Kings and The Fighter, heís taken a relatively tired and worn-out genre, in this case the romantic comedy, and enlivened it and made it vital in a way that feels fresh, new and entirely original.
Here the story revolves around former Philadelphia High School substitute teacher Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper). Heís just been released from a Baltimore mental hospital into the care of his mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver) and sheís promised the court she and her husband Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) will watch over him and make sure he follows the orders of his psychiatrist Dr. Patel (Anupam Kher).
See, Pat has anger management issues rivaling that of his father but at the same time had been living his life as undiagnosed bi-polar, the combination of the two leading him to a rather startling bit of violence when he discovered his wife, Nikki (Brea Bee), was having an affair. After spending time in the hospital the younger Solatano has decided to transform his life, make something positive out of this negative, and even though sheís got a restraining order heís certain that if he can prove heís truly changed Nikki will almost certainly give him a second chance.
Thatís the setup. The crux of the movie, however, revolves both around Patís relationship with his parents as well as the arrival of free spirit, herself dealing with mental health and sexual addiction issues after the death of her policeman husband, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), the two of them forging a fragile friendship based on ever-evolving truths that might not be wholly honest. Thereís a connection there, something intimate, both needing the other to help ease an uncomfortable pain but neither is willing to admit exists.
Where things go from there are hardly surprising. What is, however, is just how magnificently Russell juggles all of this, making everything that happens seem natural and honest even though in actuality events are as contrived as any romantic comedy thatís ever seen the light of day. The dialogue is whip-smart and invigorating, the interactions between all of the characters is lived-in and true, everything building to a freewheeling and energetic coda that in theory has no business working but in reality had me wanting to stand up in the middle of the theatre and cheer.
The actors are all-in and then some. In the case of Cooper, his performance borders on revelatory. Pat Jr., speaking whatís on his mind with no thought to the consequences, unable to hide his disdain for certain ideas and thoughts, this guy puts forth traits that are unlikable as all get-out. Yet somehow, someway, Cooper, speaking two-thousand words a minute barely able to catch his breath between syllables, makes this guy someone to root and care for, his journey towards a silver lining one I wanted to applaud.
Equally magnificent, and almost certainly going to win a Best Actress Oscar for her performance (coupled, in some ways I would think, with her equally complicated, if entirely different, turn in The Hunger Games), is Jennifer Lawrence. Her Tiffany at first appears to be nothing more than a male fantasy, a romantic comedy figment of the imagination that could never actually exist in the real world. Lawrence grounds her, makes her flesh, gives her a soul, revealing intimate layers of pain and suffering that mask the young womanís innate longing to make a connection that goes beyond the physical. Itís an incredible, freewheeling performance, and one that gets better and better the more I think about it.
I could go on, especially as it pertains to both Weaver and De Niro (both are excellent), but Iím sure at this point you get the idea. Russell has proven himself to be a master storyteller, finding the heart and soul of piece while grounding into a tactile reality that is immediate as it is true. Silver Linings Playbook made me feel excitedly alive as I walked out of the theatre, let me revel in the complicated emotional nuances of its main characters in a way I could relate to and understand. Itís a seriously great film, plain and simple, and other than that I have nothing more to say.
Film Rating: ÍÍÍÍ (out of 4)