Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Run Time: 2 hours, 2 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker, Anupam Kher, John Ortiz, Julia Stiles
Based on the novel by Matthew Quick
Written & Directed by David O. Russell (The Fighter, Three Kings, Spanking the Monkey)
Are you the kind of person who can find a silver lining in any situation? If so, you will love this endlessly optimistic film. But if you consider yourself to be more of a realist like me (or as optimists call us: pessimists), it’s hard to look away from the glaring, blinding flaws reflecting off the surface of Silver Linings Playbook.
Bradley Cooper plays Pat, who has recently been committed to a mental hospital following a breakdown. He caught his wife cheating and the shock seems to have knocked a few screws loose. Pat has no filters when talking and is extremely focused on getting back together with his wife.
He is consoled by his loving parents (Jackie Weaver and Robert De Niro) who have issues of their own. The mom, Dolores, pulls Pat out of the hospital ahead of the doctor’s wishes. The dad, Pat Sr., is a seriously obsessed Philadelphia Eagles fan who lost his job and is now a bookie. Quite literally, the Eagles are his life and his superstitious, obsessive ways mirror that of his son’s.
Pat Jr. also has a best friend Ronnie (John Ortiz), who has lost all shreds of masculinity as somebody who can only be described as p-whipped, by his wife Veronica (Julia Stiles). Veronica is still friends with Pat’s wife and through Veronica Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who is just as messed up and unhinged as Pat.
Pat is trying desperately to get hand-written letters across to his wife, to show how he has progressed. All of those around him – his parents, Ronnie and Veronica – know better than to egg him on. But Tiffany promises Pat that she will deliver his letters to his wife if he helps her in an upcoming dance competition.
All of this is more elegantly portrayed than it will come across here. It is light, funny and at times painfully hopeful. Jennifer Lawrence gives an award-worthy performance. Cooper, De Niro, Ortiz, Weaver and others put Silver Linings Playbook in the running for Best Ensemble cast of the year. It is, ultimately, a really enjoyable film.
And if I were an optimist, I would end my thoughts there. It is very easy to get wrapped up in the nature of this film, to a degree where it may affect judgment. But this silver lining isn’t without its share of dark clouds. There are many – too many, in fact – plot discrepancies and unexplained motivations. Cooper plays Pat as a bipolar Rain Man with the manners of Don Rickles. But how about a glimpse of who he was prior to “the incident?” As the film progressed, I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that this person could get married in the first place. If his wife cheated on him, how could his “best friend” still hang out with that person? In my circle of friends (and many others I would assume), that kind of thing would be unacceptable.
Add to this a strong performance by Robert De Niro, whose character ends up being the biggest flaw of all. Trying not to spoil major plot developments, go see the film and tell me if his actions in the later portions are at all believable, or if they are contrived so that the characters all have something to do. I tend to think the latter.
Silver Linings Playbook is almost so sweet and optimistic that it rises above these quibbles. But in the closing scenes, the entire premise of the film derails.
Vague yes, but go see Silver Linings Playbook regardless. It has gained a lot of early Oscar buzz and is definitely a movie worth seeing. But don’t tell me that much of it makes sense or that much of it is believable. The pessimist’s flaw is not being able to find a silver lining, but the fatal flaw of the optimist is the occasional inability to acknowledge reality.
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