Jennifer Lawrence comes of age (and boy, it’s going to be hard to watch her play a teenager in the next Hunger Games movie) and Bradley Cooper gives the kind of all-in performance that proves he’s more than just a pretty face in Silver Linings Playbook, a twist on the boy-meets-girl romantic comedy. Excepting a few lulls and contrived plot points, SLP is a fascinating look at an extremely damaged pair.
Cooper plays Pat, a Philly native whose anger issues exploded when he walked in on his wife and her lover. After some time spent in an institution, Pat decides he’s going to win back his wife by getting into shape and his life in order. The biggest impediment, however, is a pesky restraining order that prevents him from having any contact with his wife.
Lawrence plays Tiffany, an equally-damaged (though in a different way) widow of a cop who acted out sexually with anyone and everyone who showed her the least bit of attention. She is at once needy and repulsed by attention, a mental state that drives away anyone who tries to get close. I’ve been a fan of Lawrence’s since her star turn in Winter’s Bone but she completes her transition from child star to actress.
The queer flirtation/relationship that develops between Tiffany and Pat is part The Graduate, part Garden State and big helping of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. But what starts original and jarring settles quickly into predictable routine—like most romance—so that by the third act we’re not surprised to see a contrived plot point drive the movie toward a predictable conclusion that, ultimately, tells us that love can overcome any mental illness.
This movie is more than the budding romance between two individuals, it’s also an exploration of the family conditions that exacerbate fragile mental conditions. Pat’s father (Robert De Niro in his best performance since 2006’s The Good Shepherd) is himself an OCD gambler who refuses to recognize the extent of his problems. I’m a sucker for the story of a father and son finding common ground.
The dialogue and dynamics between the talented actors that populate Silver Linings Playbook help it elevate beyond a simple romantic comedy. Lawrence and Cooper both disappear into their characters.
Director David O. Russell (The Fighter) treats mental illness seriously, using it more than a plot contrivance or convenient character point, though drops the ball about its long term implications. An above-average romance that defaults into comedy, Silver Linings Playbook is a fascinating little film.
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