Director: David O Russell
Writer: David O Russell
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Tucker, Jacki Weaver, Robert De Niro
Bradley Cooper is Pat, a middle school teacher who has a nervous breakdown when he finds his wife sleeping with the history teacher in their home. His violent reaction to the affair results in a court case where Pat accepts eight months of rehabilitation in a mental asylum as a plea bargain. He comes out with a new life-affirming positive attitude and a determination to win back his estranged wife. His catch-cry: ‘Excelsior!’
Jennifer Lawrence is Tiffany, a widow coming to terms with the abrupt death of her husband Tommy, a police officer. Tiffany’s method of coping with her grief is by sleeping with all of her co-workers, a guilt-inflicted reaction to a sexual dry patch she and her husband were going through before his death.
What separates Silver Linings Playbook from so many other romantic dramas is the mental state of its two leads. Both are on the fringes of their social groups because of the emotional combustion after the trauma of their past relationship’s ending. Part of the commentary in the film is that for all of Pat and Tiffany’s problems, they are marginalized for socially unacceptable behaviours (men can’t be emotional, women can’t sleep around) and yet they are surrounded by people who have their own emotional baggage. Pat’s father – played by Robert De Niro – is a compulsive gambler, his life’s routine determined by ridiculous supersticions. Tiffany’s brother-in-law Ronnie is in a stressful marriage which he describes as slowly suffocating the life out of him. The film’s observation is that everyone has their own shit that they have to deal with but some hang ups are more socially acceptable than others.
Much of the film’s humour is derived from the complete absence of a filter from Pat and Tiffany who both freely speak their minds. Personally, I couldn’t stop laughing at the appalling frequency with which Pat brought up Tommy’s death in conversation with Tiffany.
Silver Linings Playbook is a film with two exceptionally well written leads. There is a very fine line to walk in the characterization of Pat and Tiffany where it can be easy to condescend, laugh at their expense or view them as victims. Instead, the performances from Cooper and Lawrence coupled with the deft screen writing from David O Russell gives us two characters that we can connect with, cheer for and admire.
In fact, the performances from Cooper and Lawrence feel so vivid and so real that its a little jarring when the film suddenly lurches into a third act where rom-com tropes and conventions suddenly impose themselves on the story. A winner-takes-all contest appears out of nowhere, we get a dance montage, all the peripheral characters are brought together for a climactic scene and the lovers are united when one runs after the other like something straight out of a Hugh Grant film. These are very familiar rom-com mechanisms which were entirely absent for the rest of the film. It’s a bit unexpected how Silver Linings Playbook shifts in tone in the last thirty minutes but its certainly not anything that spoils the film.
If anything, I suspect most people will be so invested in Pat and Tiffany’s relationship that they will be dreading the thought of an ending similar to A Farewell To Arms, Ernest Hemmingway’s opus that enrages Pat for what he perceives to have a senselessly negative ending.
Silver Linings Playbook shows director David O Russell at the height of his powers. I’ve enjoyed his previous work I Heart Huckabees and The Fighter but this is by far his best film. Russell shows a canny understanding for balancing comedy and melodrama plus he draws great performances out of not just his leads, but also the first interesting performances from Robert De Niro and Chris Tucker in over a decade.