'Silver' and Gold

Silver Linings Playbook
(USA, 122 min.)
Written and directed by David O. Russell
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker, Anupam Kher, John Ortiz, Julia Stiles.
Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook,.
an Alliance Films release.
I am head over heels in love with Silver Linings Playbook. It’s easy to see how this delightful film won the hearts of audiences at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival and nabbed the coveted People’s Choice Award. I missed Silver Linings Playbook at when it played at TIFF. It was a crowded festival and word on the strength of the film wasn’t out until the day of its premiere. (Reviews were held under lock and key, it seems.) Additionally, TIFF 2012 was chock-full of goodies and two films I really wanted to see, Inch’ Allah and Something in the Air, overlapped with Silver Linings. The silver lining of a festival as big as TIFF is that one can see thirty-five films in ten days and still have two-hundred-odd films left to see. I’m glad that my fellow TIFF-goers endorsed Silver Linings so strongly, though, and I would have cast a vote for it myself if I’d seen it then.

Silver Linings Playbook, adapted from the novel by Matthew Quick, is the jolly new dramedy from director David O. Russell. It seems that his 2010 drama The Fighter was just a stepping-stone towards an impeccable film like Silver Linings Playbook. Russell steps back from the high-gloss studio sheen of The Fighter and gets back to his indie comedy roots with Silver Linings Playbook. As much as I admired The Fighter, I prefer the wacky dysfunctional vein of Russell’s comedies Flirting with Disaster and I Heart Huckabees. It seems that Russell has really hit his stride with Silver Linings Playbook: it has the high-energy cheer of his comedies, but also the dramatic punch of his more sober works. Likewise, it’s a seamlessly made film—flawless, really—and it takes the fancy footwork of The Fighter and uses it to up the zany energy.
Like The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook is a come-from-behind story full of heart. The underdog of the film is Pat, played by Bradley Cooper, who displays impressive dramatic range while providing Hangover-grade laughs. Pat is introduced as an obsessive guy in search of a silver lining. He’s in a mental institution, recovering from a breakdown that was sparked by his wife’s infidelity. Pat is always reading signs and creating his own faulty logic, much like his fellow patient Danny (Chris Tucker), whose conspiracy theories all trace back to his hair.

Pat is saved from the loony bin by his mother, Dolores (Animal Kingdom’s Jacki Weaver), who wants to bring her son back home. Pat’s home life isn’t much more stable than the hospital is, though, with his father, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro, who gives his best performance of the past fifteen years), running a bookmaking operation that functions on his own obsessive compulsiveness. Some things run in the family.

Pat’s compulsions return in full force without his doctor’s supervision. He prattles endlessly throughout the night and jogs in a garbage bag during the daytime. Pat’s jogging ensemble is one good example of the film’s ability to charm through simple quirky details. (It’s the little things that count.) Pat’s bipolar habits are aggravated by his obsession over reuniting with his ex-wife, Nikki. It’s Pat’s attempt to win back Nikki, however, which puts him back on the right track.
His biggest enabler is an equally unstable young woman named Tiffany, played by Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games). Introduced by a friend at dinner, the recently widowed Tiffany propositions Pat and then proceeds to slap him in the face. Tiffany is a hot mess, a tragic wreck with a heart of gold but an unrestrained wild side. Pat decides to milk his mutual friendship with Tiffany to win Nikki back. In return, Tiffany enlists Pat to be her partner in an annual dance competition that her late husband was always too shy to enter.

Cooper and Lawrence are an excellent onscreen duo. Both actors are current “it” stars of the moment, and each shows a new level of talent with their comedic energy and dramatic chutzpah. It looks like they’re both having a lot of fun with the roles, too, (especially in the dance sequences), so it’s refreshing to see both stars enjoying this big step forward in their careers. Lawrence is especially good in the saucy role of Tiffany, displaying a side of her range that we haven’t seen before. The two actors are an irresistible onscreen couple, particularly since they craft such accessible, down-to-earth characters.

With a climactic dance number and a love story at its heart, Silver Linings Playbook might sound like a candy-coated rom-com of the Katherine Heigl variety. However, with its roster of humanely flawed characters and its manic OCD energy, Silver Linings Playbook is the ultimate romantic comedy for people who don’t like romantic comedies. Russell gives the material just the right edge to undercut the potential sugary feel. Moreover, the snappy beat of the script is in step with Russell’s idiosyncratic up-close-and-personal style that uses handheld cameras and POV to hone in on the actors as they shine. (The ensemble is excellent overall.) Top marks also go to editor Jay Cassidy, who cuts Silver Linings with an effortlessly sprightly tempo to match Russell’s beat. By the film’s end, even viewers like me who usually abhor happy endings will find themselves exiting the theatre with a sincere stride in their step.
The silver lining about this intense, euphoric film is that even though Pat is a bit of a nutter, he’s the American everyman that who rarely finds a place in Hollywood. Thanks to its damaged, but irresistibly winning characters, Silver Linings Playbook feels like a throwback to a golden age of comedy, with the energy of Pat and Tiffany’s relationship calling to mind Billy Wilder’s great American comedy The Apartment. Just like Jack Lemmon bowled audiences over by straining spaghetti through a tennis racket for the lovelorn Shirley MacLaine, Cooper’s final dance with Lawrence is a clincher for Silver Linings to become an American classic.

While The Apartment used the underdog love story to offer a scathing look at American capitalism—the film is arguably a key precursor to Mad MenSilver Linings Playbook takes the madcap antics of Pat’s bipolarity and Tiffany’s apparent nymphomania to change the way viewers look at mental illness. Everyone’s a little bit crazy in Silver Linings Playbook, and the heart of the film comes from how normal every seems with their respective irks and quirks. They may not have it all together, but together they have it all.

Rating: ★★★★★ (out of ★★★★★)

Silver Linings Playbook opens in limited release this Friday.
It opens in Ottawa on Friday, November 21.