Film Review: Silver Linings Playbook

Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence make a lively pair of potential lovers with major psychological baggage in this crowd-pleasing comedy from David O. Russell.

“Boisterous” may be the best word to describe the families that populate the movies of David O. Russell, from Ben Stiller’s equally madcap adoptive and birth parents in 1996’s Flirting with Disaster to the feisty, true-life Boston clan of boxer Micky Ward in the 2010 Best Picture Oscar nominee The Fighter. Russell stays true to that riotous tradition with his latest ensemble tale, Silver Linings Playbook, a delightful romantic comedy with unusually dark underpinnings.

Bradley Cooper, in surely his best role to date, plays Pat Solatano, a former high-school teacher just released from a psychiatric facility into the care of his mom and dad, after being committed for violently beating a colleague he discovered naked in the shower with his wife. Pat is struggling with bipolar disorder—not the usual source of comedy, but there is something undeniably droll about a grown man waking up his parents at four a.m. to vent when he discovers Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms has an unhappy ending. It runs in the family, as they say: Pat’s dad (Robert De Niro, gifted with his best part in years) has OCD and a panoply of superstitions tied to his illegal football betting operation.

At a dinner party, Pat meets someone who seems almost equally troubled: Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence, 180 degrees from The Hunger Games), an outspoken, mercurial young woman who went into a messy tailspin after the death of her cop husband. The chemistry between Pat and Tiffany (and the actors playing them) is immediately apparent, but their emotional wounds make a persuasive obstacle to the inevitable, especially in light of Pat’s obsession with winning his wife back despite a restraining order. Pat asks Tiffany to be a go-between with his estranged spouse, and Tiffany agrees on condition that he partner with her for an upcoming dance competition.

The sleek comedic structure (adapted by Russell from a well-reviewed novel by Matthew Quick) culminates in two events of high importance happening simultaneously, the dance competition and a crucial football game for hometown heroes the Philadelphia Eagles. The result is one of the most gratifying and smile-inducing comedic climaxes in recent memory.

The humor here is as quirky as anything in Flirting with Disaster, but the diverse characters are consistently engaging. Cooper brings manic intensity to the mood-swinging Pat (whose anger is especially triggered when he hears his wedding song, Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour”), but keeps the audience rooting for his recovery. Twenty-two-year-old Lawrence is simply a revelation here, displaying an unpredictable, quicksilver energy and the comic chops of an old pro. De Niro reminds us how entertaining and incisive he can be with good material, here playing a stubborn patriarch with some deep, unspoken vulnerabilities. Australia’s Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom) is a warm, slightly dotty presence as his wife, and John Ortiz is a cast standout as Pat’s best friend, whose own home life is far from a suburban dream. In a rare screen appearance, Chris Tucker is fun in his handful of scenes as a chatty refugee from the psychiatric clinic.

The unwieldy title, by the way, conflates De Niro’s betting system with his son’s determined efforts to maintain a sunny outlook. The prospects couldn’t be brighter for this immensely satisfying and surprising comedy.