Silver Linings Playbook is an optimistic tale in a cynical world. It’s a unique and beautiful imagination from David O. Russell that dares to go against the consensus of pessimism with wondrous cinematic expression: it loves, lives, feels, and embraces imperfection and defies normalcy.
Russell is at his most vulnerable in this latest film – a touching story about a former teacher that comes back home after an eight-month stint in a mental institution to reconnect with his family and reincarnate his ostensibly still existing marriage. Reality quickly hits Pat (Bradley Cooper) slap-dab in the face upon his return to Philadelphia. Nikki (his ex-wife played by Brea Bee) has placed a restraining order on him and his mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver) and father Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) are attempting to build a restaurant off their illegal gambling business, as Pat is forced to take daily doses of medication and constantly visit with his perceptive doctor (played by Anupam Kher).
Unexpectedly, our protagonist’s saving grace is an equally distressed beauty named Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). A recently widowed and unemployed woman who’s going through a bout of depression, she finds herself sleeping with any man with a pulse, and the two, pushed by their illnesses, need one another.
Their relationship evolves into the catalyst of Pat’s uplifting story. His attempts to stay positive, using the word “excelsior” as his life motto (Greek for even upward), allow him to get closer to Tiffany, and in these unusual circumstances, a strong, intimate bond grows – as do romantic feelings.
Adapted from Matthew Quick’s novel of the same title, Russell deserves much of the credit for the rousing success of Silver Linings Playbook. Warm and humorous, the film is a deft portrayal of mental illness and society’s acceptance of individuals who have psychologically suffer. And yet, Russell’s most impressive film to date accomplishes more than just expounding upon the heartache of sickness. Silver Linings Playbook manages to seamlessly balance a rocky father-son story (Pat Sr. longs to spend more time with his son by watching Eagles football) and a thoughtful romance.
Lawrence and Cooper exchange sincere lines of dialogue as if they have been playing these characters for years. Pat makes these astronomical changes in his life to prove to Nikki (whom he’s still in love with) that he’s a new man, worthy of her affection. As the film progresses, Tiffany begins to fall in love with Pat – despite his intentions to re-obtain his wife. David O. Russell continues to showcase his impeccable ability to create multi-dimensional families. Moreover, the film does a fine job of inviting the audience with its warm atmosphere.
Family life has scarcely been as exposed, engaging, and telling, but despite the superlatives, Silver Linings Playbook, is still a little contrived and predictable and perhaps a bit too sentimental for its own good. Though you shouldn’t really care about its defects.
Few films in recent memory have effectively pulled at the heartstrings like this. It’s the type of picture that may not sit well with some. And that’s OK. For viewers willing to leave behind their captious and contemptuous preconceptions, I imagine Russell’s crowd-pleaser will hit home. Silver Linings Playbook reaffirms ones faith in the value of family, the possibility of a new beginning, and the incomprehensible, grandiose prospect of falling in love.