Silver Linings Playbook is as good as you've heard. It's been nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, with players in all four of the major acting categories. What makes the film all the more remarkable is that it's basically a romantic comedy. It only seems like something greater because the characters have such depth and heart.
We begin in a mental hospital, where Pat (Bradley Cooper) has been for the last eight months, trying to find the "silver lining" in every situation (hence the title). He works out fanatically with a trash bag on. He believes his estranged wife wants a fit, non-violent man, and if he just thinks positive and does enough pushups, he'll be able to win her back.
And then we have Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who meets Pat at a dinner party. She's a recent widow who, like Pat, is not wired quite right. Ordinarily I'd be rolling my eyes at this point. Of course Pat and Tiffany are made for each other, and now here I am, trapped in the theater, doomed to watch attractive, clueless people make one dumb mistake after another until it all turns around and they end up together. It should be that way, but it isn't. Watching Pat and Tiffany interact is delightful and surprising. They both think the other person is nuts. Tiffany tells him, "You've said more inappropriate things than appropriate things." It's a case of two black kettles and no pots.
People have criticized the film for being somehow inaccurate or exploitative in its depiction of bipolar disorder, but that's wrong. Mental illness isn't one thing. It expresses itself differently in each person. Pat's manic, unmedicated optimism reminds me a little of Charlie Sheen during his "winning" phase. Tiffany's histrionic outbursts are at once plausible and heartbreaking.
Silver Linings Playbook was directed by David O. Russell, the man behind 2010's The Fighter. What I admired most about that film was the warmth, closeness and manipulation that can exist in a close-knit family of adults, and that same dynamic is working here. At home are Pat's father (Robert DeNiro), who has a singular devotion to the Philadelphia Eagles and some mental/rage issues of his own. His mother (Jackie Weaver) makes crab cakes on game day and stoically takes care of all the unstable men in her life.
So many romantic comedies star beautiful women who are made to behave as though they aren't beautiful. The story makes them klutzes or "nerdy" to show us how real they are, and we've been conditioned to accept this as one of those movie conceits, like phone numbers that begin with 555. Not the case here. Tiffany is aware of her sexuality, is empowered and entangled by it. Her body is a gift that she exploits, and sometimes that gets her into trouble.
It's still a romantic comedy plot, so never mind how, but in the end, the fate of the characters hinge on the results of a football game and a dance contest. We watch Pat and Tiffany practice an absurd dance routine (Remember Girls Just Want to Have Fun with Sarah Jessica Parker? It's just like that.) It's a seduction, plain and simple, and everyone seems to know this but Pat. I'm only just scratching the surface. I haven't had space to mention some of the minor characters, every one of them pitch perfect. (Look out for Chris Tucker as the hair-obsessed mental patient and Julia Stiles as an uptight but well-meaning housewife.) This is a movie of great intelligence and wit, with flawed but ultimately heartfelt characters. Believe the hype.
Silver Linings Playbook continues at the Carmike 12.