“Why are they so excited about a 5?”
At the end of it all, some movies win you over, and some don’t. It’s as simple as that. It’s like a train, really. Either the director is able to make you care enough for his characters and their issues that you hop aboard, or they leave wishing you had never stepped off the platform. David O. Russell’s new film, Silver Linings Playbook, makes you gladly step off the platform and onto the train, happy that you are able to come along on such an emotional, enjoyable ride.
Silver Linings Playbook stars Bradley Cooper as Pat, a former teacher newly released after an 8-month stint in a mental institution. Pat moves in with his parents Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) and Dolores (Jacki Weaver) and starts working out, reading books, and trying to rehabilitate himself in order to reconcile with his wife — if she gives him the chance and lifts the restraining order against him. Pat is reformed but still rough around the edges, a man hoping to find his way and a silver lining for himself. But that all changes when he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a newly widowed young woman with plenty of problems of her own.
Pat finds himself constantly derailed by his own mistakes, unable to cope with the incident that sent him to the institution or his wife’s insistance on maintaining distance. And so, too, does Tiffany. Since her husband died, she has spent many a night sleeping around with strangers, inconsolable yet hoping that this will ease the pain. The two find hope in each other — Pat in Tiffany’s ability to relay a letter to his wife, and Tiffany in Pat’s ability to help her compete in a Philadelphia dance competition. In each other they find hope and joy and meaning — their own personal silver linings — but it’s not an easy journey.
“Cops have cards now?”
These two characters are crazy. We know that from the start. Both Pat and Tiffany are so damaged that the only way things can go, for them, is up. And, as an audience, you recognize that. You know where the story is going — it’s all a bunch of cliches anyways — and yet David O. Russell has crafted these characters so beautifully that there is no way you can’t root for them.
You root for Pat, a man who wants nothing more than to overcome his illness and be happy, but who can’t seem to get past his trigger. You root for Tiffany, a woman fractured after her husband died trying to revive their marriage. You root for Pat Sr., a bookie with a plan to open a restaurant and a son who doesn’t spend enough time with him. You root for Dolores, a mother who just wants to see her son well again.
Hell, you even root for Danny (Chris Tucker), one of Pat’s fellow friends at the institution who wants nothing more than to get out of there and live his own life again. These — and more — are characters that we come to know during the course of the film, people who wear their hearts on their sleeves in search for happiness. And because of that, Russell’s Playbook, too, wears its heart on its sleeve, always searching for joy but never afraid to dive into tough subjects in order to get there.
“It can still be a date even if you order raisin bran.”
The acting here is top-notch, but I’m sure you could have figured that out. Bradley Cooper, in my opinion, has never been so good. He turns Pat into a deep yet hopeful man with a brain that struggles to break past its complexes. And Jennifer Lawrence seems so much older — in a good way — than she did in The Hunger Games. She has a sort of ageless quality to her. At one point in the film, Pat even asks her, “How old are you?”, to which she tells him that she’s old enough to be a widow of a police officer.
In their supporting turns, Jacki Weaver is splendid as a nervous, almost overbearing mother, and Robert De Niro hasn’t been this good in a long time, as a man who sees his son as the Philadelphia Eagles’ good luck charm. We need to read about and think about and talk about the Eagles, he suggests to his son, so that they can do well next weekend; sure he’s superstitious, but he is damn passionate.
There are others who shine through, too. Chris Tucker hasn’t been this good in a long time — perhaps since Rush Hour 2 — and John Ortiz (as Pat’s friend Ronnie) and Anupam Kher (as Pat’s therapist) turn in hilarious roles as well.
“Let me tell ya. You gotta pay attention to signs. When life reaches out with a moment like this it’s a sin if you don’t reach back… I’m telling you.”
Silver Linings Playbook does a lot of other things that I like, too. Pat’s family, as well as many others in the film, are passionate Eagles fans, and they are passionate in a very realistic manner. The superstitions, the traditions, and ups and downs, it’s all there. And it toes the line of drama and comedy with utter precision. One minute, Pat is having a breakdown, and the next, Danny is teaching him how to “put some black in it” while dancing.
Sure, the story is a bit cliched. But director David O. Russell thrives on these cliches and tropes. He uses them to his advantage, never afraid to move the story exactly where you think it will go, and always doing so at the right time and with sincerity.
Frankly, if you ask me, this film is brilliant. It’s honest. It’s enjoyable. I loved it. Silver Linings Playbook is, bar none, among the best films I’ve seen all year.