I always wonder about people who have been diagnosed with a psychological problem like bipolar disorder; some of them have such a zest and passion for life that I begin to wonder if it’s even fair to say that they are sick. Everyone else seems to get so beaten up and run down by life to where it robs the smiles off of our faces, and yet people like Pat Solitano, Bradley Cooper’s character in “Silver Linings Playbook,” seems so inspired by everything around him. Despite Pat’s problem, I came out of this movie desperately wanting to feel the way he does.
Of course, Pat’s boundless zest for life has come at a huge price for him. “Silver Linings Playbook,” the latest film from writer/director David O. Russell, starts off with Pat being released from a mental institution after being locked in there for eight months. It turns out that Pat, a former school teacher, went off the deep end one day when he came home and found his wife Nikki in the shower with another man. Pat did not take this well to put it mildly and he went ballistic on the guy in a way no one will ever forget.
Now that Pat’s been released, he is forced to move back in with his parents (played by Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver) as he has lost his home and his job, and his wife has since moved away and filed a restraining order against him. However, he is determined to move his life forward in a positive direction and win Nikki back, but he is still troubled by the discovery he made all those months ago. It also doesn’t help that a certain Stevie Wonder song, the same one which was played at Pat’s and Nikki’s wedding, was playing on the stereo when Pat found his wife at home but not alone. That song acts as a terrible trigger for him, and you feel his excruciating pain whenever it starts playing.
Cooper is best known for his work in “The Hangover” movies, but this role really shows the kind of actor he is truly capable of being. Cooper makes you sympathize with Pat’s sincere intentions to be a better person even when he flies off the handle for the most unexpected reasons. Just watch him go ballistic after he finishes reading Ernest Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms.” From start to finish, Cooper is a dynamo in the role and you relish in the joy he gets from playing this character.
Cooper is also well matched with Jennifer Lawrence who follows up her performance in the box office behemoth “The Hunger Games” with a fiery turn as Tiffany. Now a widow after her husband passed away, Tiffany speaks her mind bluntly and without apology and it is clear that she is still coping with a devastating loss. Lawrence blew us away with her breakthrough performance in “Winter’s Bone,” and her talent as an actress has never been in doubt since. She more than rises to the challenge in “Silver Linings Playbook” in creating a character who on the surface is not exactly pleasant, and yet she still lets us see the wounded humanity which Tiffany’s tough exterior cannot hide.
The film also features a number of terrific supporting performances as well. Robert De Niro gives one of his best performances in a long time as Pat’s father who is as hopeful for his son’s recovery as he is for the Philadelphia Eagles winning every single football game they play. Jacki Weaver, best known for her Oscar nominated performance in “Animal Kingdom,” also lends some strong support as Pat’s mom. There are also some inspired turns from John Ortiz as Ronnie, Anupam Kher as Dr. Patel, and even Julia Stiles shows up as Tiffany’s sister Veronica.
But one supporting performance which really stands out in “Silver Linings Playbook” is Chris Tucker’s as Danny, Pat’s friend who leaves the mental institution only to find that he’s not really allowed to just yet. Not only is this is the first movie Tucker’s done in a long time without “Rush Hour” in the title, but he also dials down on his manic comic energy to give a surprisingly naturalistic performance. Tucker is a lot of fun to watch here, and fits in perfectly with the rest of the cast without ever upstaging anybody. He is wonderful to watch here.
“Silver Linings Playbook” is based on the book of the same name by Matthew Quick, and it is the perfect fit for a writer/director like David O. Russell. His films, whether it’s “Flirting with Disaster,” “The Fighter” or even “Three Kings,” deal with complicated characters who are trying to salvage what is left of their souls so that they can move on to better things. This one is no different as Pat and Tiffany need each other to get past the traumas that have come to define their lives in the present. Russell presents their story in a way that never feels the least bit formulaic, and he never ever takes the easy way out with these characters.
What I’ve come to love about Russell’s movies is that they feel alive in a way most don’t. With “Silver Linings Playbook” you are watching lives unfold in front of you, and it is directed to where you experience what’s happening instead of just watching it. Regardless of the problems these characters face here, there is something strangely positive and fulfilling in seeing them overcome what is holding them back. It is also exhilarating to watch characters that are so filled with passion and a love for life, and this film is full of them. This is really one of the most entertaining and enjoyable movies I have seen so far in 2012.
* * * * out of * * * *