“Silver Linings Playbook” is not the easiest film to watch. I can’t think of a single movie where the two lead characters suffer from deep psychological issues and yet we like and root for them throughout. Yet this one’s good.
The film opens with Pat Solatano Jr. (Bradley Cooper) getting ready to leave a Baltimore psychiatric hospital after spending eight months there as the result of a court order. The reason for his stay was because of an “incident.” Midway through the film we learn that Pat came home in the middle of the day to discover that his wife Nikki was having an affair with another teacher from the suburban Philadelphia high school where they both taught and where Pat served as a substitute.
Making matters worse, Pat discovered them not in the bedroom but making love in a shower as his wedding song, Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amor,” is playing in the background. In a scene designed to draw comparisons to “Psycho,” Pat badly bloodies and comes within a hair of murdering his wife’s paramour.
In spite of losing his wife, his job and his home (he now lives with his parents), Pat is surprisingly upbeat from his stint in Baltimore and sincerely feels that he can win Nikki back (he’s still deeply in love with her), regain his job, and have exactly the same life that he had before “the incident.” He believes that he is a better person and looks for the positives (“silver linings”) in life. We quickly learn that Pat suffers from severe mood swings which are indicative of his being bipolar, something that was not diagnosed for a good part of his life.
He also suffers from obsessive compulsiveness that displays itself through his maniacal exercise regiment and his voracious reading of great American novels. Nikki apparently wanted him to both lose weight and become more learned.
To help him get back to socializing, Pat’s friends, Ronnie (John Ortiz) and his wife, Veronica (Julia Styles), invite him to dinner, where the other guest is Veronica’s unpredictable sister, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a young widow who has been battling depression her entire life.
Like members of rival cults, Pat and Tiffany each think that the other is crazy while they themselves are certain that they are relatively sane. It’s not until they’re discussing their psychotropics, as well as commiserating about the fact that each has a wildly successful and “normal” sibling, that they develop some rapprochement. Neither of have them have any filters that block them from uttering their thoughts, so volatility is palpable throughout this film.
Writer and director David O. Russell, who was the mastermind behind “The Fighter,” nails nearly all of the little details so perfectly that you forget you are watching a movie and feel as if you are eavesdropping on very real people.
Russell also brilliantly captures two of our national obsessions, pro football and dance competitions.
The Philadelphia Eagles are practically a religion in the City of Brotherly Love, something I am too well acquainted with. Pat’s father, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro in one of his better recent roles) is a bookie who would never bet against his beloved “Birds.” He is banned from attending games at the Eagles’ stadium, Lincoln Financial Field, because he was always getting into fights. Watching the games on TV with Pat Jr. is a way of bonding for them.
Tiffany loves to dance, and her dream is to take part in a competition held during the holiday season at a swanky Center City hotel. Her late husband hated dancing, and Pat feels the same way. He reluctantly agrees to be her partner only when she promises to deliver a letter from him to his wife, who has a restraining order out on him.
A subtle plot point that David Russell brilliantly explores is coming to grips with a relationship that is nothing more than a glorified crush and coming to grips with who is and isn’t right for you. Even though Pat is clearly an extreme individual, who among us hasn’t dreamt of winning back the affections of someone who dumped us by doing things we believe will make us more desirable to them?
Cooper, who grew up in the Philly suburbs, shines in a very difficult role and shows that he is far more than that guy from “The Hangover” movies. Lawrence delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as well.
“Silver Linings Playbook” has plenty of silver linings for filmgoers.