By LINDSAY TESSIER
Writer-director David O. Russell breathes new life into a tired genre with Silver Linings Playbook, a darkly funny romantic comedy with an unconventional love story.
The movie stars Bradley Cooper as Pat, a former high school teacher who has spent the last eight months in a psychiatric hospital after a violent attack on his wife’s lover.
As the film opens, Pat is released into the care of his blue-collar parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver) and goes to live with them in the Philadelphia home where he grew up.
Newly diagnosed with bipolar disorder and having lost his job, home and wife all in the same year, Pat is understandably lost. He struggles with taking his medication and insists he can heal himself with a regimen of exercise and reading. He is intent on winning back his estranged wife, Nikki. There’s just one small hitch. The restraining order she has filed against him.
Russell (Three Kings, The Fighter) delivers a refreshingly real portrayal of mental illness, never mocking the seriousness of Pat’s condition or painting him as a tragic figure. In fact, what makes Silver Linings unique is that it comes across not as a film about mental illness, but as a genuine and funny movie that happens to have characters with mental health issues.
Through friends, Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a young, grieving widow suffering from her own mental imbalances. The two of them hit it off, but Pat insists he still wants to reconcile with his wife. Tiffany offers to pass along a letter to his wife if Pat agrees to be her partner in a local dance competition.
The film somehow manages to avoid the predictable cliches usually found in romantic comedies. The familiar material feels fresh and new in Russell’s capable hands and his witty script and complex characters elevate the genre to a whole new level. The film is almost bipolar in nature – freewheeling from lows to highs without missing a beat.
Cooper gives the best performance of his career thus far – playing Pat with a frenetic and physical intensity that is, at times, painful to watch.
Lawrence is incredible as Tiffany, the grief stricken widow desperate for understanding and connection. She is sexy, fierce, vulnerable and incredibly compelling.
Unexpected and charming, the film is made with a love that shines through every scene. It is that rare creature: a feel good movie that is as smart as it is satisfying.
I give Silver Linings Playbook five out of five stars.