Silver Linings Playbook takes a more serious approach to the typical romantic comedy. Rather than just dealing with his feelings for his ex-wife and new female friend, the protagonist has to deal with his mood swings and newly diagnosed bipolar disorder. This creates a much more intriguing story than the archetype of the genre. But what really stood out were the stellar performances of the entire cast, not limited to the two leads.
Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), released from an eight-month stint in a mental hospital, is eager to win his wife Nikki back. He is in complete denial that Nikki left him for good after he beat up her lover (the reason he ended up in the clinic in the first place). Soon after his return home, he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), his best friend’s sister-in-law. Following the death of her husband, Tiffany broke down and now suffers from many mental traumas. After some hesitation and a dinner that Pat insists isn’t a date, he agrees to compete with Tiffany in a dance competition in the hopes that it will help him win Nikki back.
As I’m sure writer/director David O. Russell intended, from their first scene together it is obvious that Pat and Tiffany are made for each other. Neither can refrain from interrogating the other about their problems and they quickly bond over the previous use of many of the same medications. Though their relationship might seem unhealthy from the outside (such as Tiffany’s stalking Pat on his runs), it’s easy to believe that this is the healthiest, most genuine connection they have had. Neither really knows how to deal with their issues, but together they learn to overcome them. Somewhat, at least.
Because of Pat and Tiffany’s refusal to take medication to ease their disorders (and lives), the characters interact completely lucidly. This makes their interactions honest and unaffected, a necessity in a movie so reliant on well-developed characters. However, Pat makes significant improvements without the use of medication, which downplays the reality of mental disorders. He improves solely by thinking positively and basing his life around the idea of becoming the superior version of himself, what he calls ‘excelsior.’ Though positive thinking can play a part in getting over a mental disorder, it isn’t enough to deal with such a major issue.
On the other hand, the film is realistic in how it handles other aspects of mental illness, such as the effect it has on the family. Pat’s father (Robert De Niro) is also battling some mental health issues; he is loaded with obsessive-compulsive tendencies and superstitions about the Philadelphia Eagles. De Niro, experienced with portraying a tough parent (in movies such as Meet the Parents), easily captures this side of Pat Sr., but his talent really shows when he struggles to deal with Pat’s illness by trying to push him back into old routines to avoid the real issue.
Since this is a very character-driven story, the actors have to carry a lot of the weight of the film. The large number of close-ups on the characters’ faces pushes the actors to be very expressive. Bradley Cooper might be known for his raunchy comedy The Hangover, but he proves that he can do much more. He covers both ends of the spectrum when he snaps between his happy-go-lucky personality and a fit of anger within seconds. Pat’s eccentricities could have easily been taken too far, but Cooper succeeds in portraying him as delusional without appearing to be beyond saving.
This is undoubtedly one of Cooper’s best performances, but Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany is the true star. Though at 22 she may appear too young for the part, this is easily swept away by the maturity she brings to the role. She battles Pat and her inner demons with force and conviction that feels incredibly natural.
Silver Linings Playbook might be a romance, but the dark subject matter of mental illness keeps the story moving. Sharp jokes dot the movie to break up the intense scenes and lighten the grave conversations. Pat and Tiffany resort to humor to try to ease the harsh realities they face, and it gives the characters real substance.
Though a few clichés are sprinkled throughout Silver Linings Playbook, they are inevitable due to the nature of a budding romance. The dialogue is sharp and witty and the characters, including the supporting cast, are fully fleshed out. The movie is held together by the stellar performances of Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. Though it has its dark moments, by the end of the movie you are sure to be just as cheerful as Pat and intent on looking for your own silver linings in times of turmoil.