By Carl Kozlowski
Love in the movies is rarely shown in the way most of us deal with it in life, with all the messy complications and daily struggles that go hand in hand with the great times. When a film comes along that even tries to get it right and actually succeeds, it’s a cause for celebration.
The Silver Linings Playbook is one of those movies, an emotionally resonant yet deeply funny film that finds wholly unexpected depths in its lead performances by Bradley Cooper (The Hangover) and Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games). It’s so rich with humanity that it has the first Oscar-worthy performance Robert DeNiro has bothered to deliver in well over a decade and even convinced the ridiculously reclusive Chris Tucker to take on a role outside of the Rush Hour series (as a mental patient who keeps scamming his way out of the hospital) for the first time in 15 years.
Based on a novel by Matthew Quick, the film follows the frightening yet funny story of Pat Solitano (Cooper), a Philadelphia substitute high school teacher who entered a residential treatment facility for mental illness eight months earlier as part of his plea bargain for an at-first-unspecified crime. His mother Dolores (Jackie Weaver, an Australian actress who scored an Oscar nomination for 2010’s Animal Kingdom) talks the doctors and a judge into signing him out to the care of herself and his father, Pat Sr. (DeNiro), assuring them Pat will take his meds and attend therapy sessions.
Pat wants to do none of those things, however, and instead runs constantly to keep off his formerly excessive weight and reads every book in the syllabus of his wife’s high school English class in an attempt to win her back. But she’s hiding from him, because, we eventually learn, he caught her in the shower with a fellow teacher whom Pat proceeded to nearly beat to death as their wedding song, Stevie Wonder’s “Ma Cherie Amour,” played loudly in the background.
Now that song sets him off into fits of comical rage whenever he hears it, and just as he’s about to be locked up again in the psychiatric hospital, he meets Tiffany (Lawrence), a casual friend of his wife’s who’s got plenty of dark problems of her own to deal with.
Tiffany’s a very young widow whose policeman husband died tragically while helping someone. After that, she wound up having a bipolar crash that caused her to have sex with everyone in her office, male and female, before ultimately losing her job.
Pat needs Tiffany to slip his wife a letter, in violation of her restraining order against him, while Tiffany needs him to be her partner in a lavish dance competition. They trade favors, setting off a range of complications that are funny, resonant and real.
Silver is the latest great film by writer/director David O. Russell, who has a reputation as one of Hollywood’s most hot-tempered and perfectionist filmmakers. But from his hilarious debut Flirting with Disaster through Three Kings, continuing on with the oddball I Heart Huckabees and finally the Oscar-winning smash The Fighter, his perfectionism has paid off with movies that are not only unique in the marketplace, but refreshingly different from each other.
The beauty of his work lies in the quirky details he brings to the fore that other filmmakers would likely never notice. Both The Fighter and Silver take place among the working-class sectors of big cities Boston and Philadelphia, accurately depicting the inhabitants and the passions that fill those homes with boisterous bouts of fighting and laughter. With The Fighter, the family bonded through boxing, while here, their lives seem to center on the Sunday football games of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Silver Linings Playbook derives its title from the fact that the younger Pat has been taught by shrinks to see the silver lining in any situation. Check out this movie and you’ll find yourself looking for the beautiful moments that emerge from your hardest times as well.