Movie review: Silver Linings Playbook
Feelgood but frank film sings the praises of mutual support
Posted: February 27, 2013
Open house. This look at the effects of mental illness on a household is intimate, serious and sweet.
Some people have called Silver Linings Playbook a version of Garden State set in suburban Philadelphia, but it is a much more mature, more intimate and less playful piece of work than its 2004 sibling. The film features Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), a man with some serious mental issues following a breakdown he suffered after discovering his wife in the shower with another man. In the course of the film, he will meet another former mental patient who will support him, and he her, on their journey to becoming more or less fully functioning members of society again.
It sounds a little Hollywood, and it is, but director David O. Russell - who headed the genre-bending, brightly lit commercial take on the meaning of life in I Heart Huckabees, a stunning piece of work with remarkable emotional depth - puts equal measures of head and heart into Silver Linings Playbook, and the result plays to a large audience using methods different from those employed by many other filmmakers.
Solitano is bipolar, and at the beginning of the film the viewer is bound to be a little scared of what damage he is capable of doing without meaning to. He seems arrogant and ignores everyone around him because he believes people are conspiring against him while he alone has the insight and the knowledge to fight against the darkness. Given his history of eight months spent at Baltimore's Karel Psychiatric Facility, he also feels like he has learned enough to fix other people, including treating his father's symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Initially, this is a character with little self-control who is difficult to warm up to, but Cooper gives his all - as does every single other member of this cast, all of whom demonstrate consistently outstanding acting abilities - and there is always a little bit of vulnerability to make him likable.
Directed by David O. Russell
With Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert de Niro, Jacki Weaver
Positive films about mental health will usually be open to criticism by those who say it should be treated with the kind of brutal honesty it deserves, but even though Silver Linings Playbook does not take on targets like the mental health industry or examine society's biased view of the mentally ill, it successfully evokes our empathy without making us feel like we're being manipulated.
When Pat returns to his parents' home, he is immediately ostracized in the small community where he and his wife Nikki used to teach at a high school. The reason is that, upon discovering his wife cheating on him, Pat went off the deep end, and now people whisper "crazy" to each other when they see him.
Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence, who won the Oscar for her portrayal), a girl who was also put on numerous kinds of medication after her husband died, and the two have an instant connection, despite Pat's insistence that he is making himself a better man so that Nikki, who currently has a restraining order against him, will take him back. The two become friends, although the friendship seems a little shallow, not anchored in anything specific except the fact that they both used to be on medication and are considered bad eggs in the neighborhood.
Though Silver Linings Playbook imbues its central romance with a tad less magic than these kinds of films usually do - and aside from the stellar acting, a beautifully crafted screenplay and a tender but never sentimental look at the combination of tension and love inside a family - what makes it an achievement is the cinematography. By shooting some of the key moments in his film in an unconventional way, Russell shows himself to be one of the most daring directors.
Erratic but not out of control, the camera often focuses only on running feet as Pat jogs through the neighborhood, or tracks quickly from or toward a character or a group of characters experiencing something important (something Garden State does, too). And in one of the final scenes of the film, at a dance competition, the camera is very intimate with the dance partners, basically hunched over their shoulders.
The relationship between Pat and his parents is also touchingly portrayed as complicated, with small words having the potential to trigger domestic disasters. His father (Robert de Niro), skeptical he has changed all that much, is distant at first and only talks about football, but slowly he comes around to understanding his son better and in discussing Tiffany's evident love for Pat, he also obliquely refers to himself.
Silver Linings Playbook (the title refers to the small miracles you can choose to see in your daily life) is thoroughly engaging while you watch it, which should always be one of the most important reasons for recommending a film. It has a long way to go to be a great film, but Russell is a director who knows what he is doing, and his risks pay off.
The film dupes us on the complexity of emotions in a relationship, but Cooper strikes an impressive balance in playing a man at once faithful to a woman who doesn't love him anymore, conflicted about his place in the world and his desire for Tiffany, and battling daily battle against people who tell him he is broken.
André Crous can be reached at