After spending the past eight months undergoing therapy in a mental institution, former high school teacher Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) returns to suburban Philadelphia and into the lives of his parents, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) and Dolores (Jacki Weaver). Wasting no time in attempting to straighten himself up and win back his wife, Pat comes to a deal with Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a troubled widow and force of nature, that sees him become her partner for a dance competition, in exchange for her help in contacting his wife.
Written and directed by David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook takes a compassionate and unbiased look at tormented souls and how, with others’ love, support and direction, they’re able to find some peace within themselves and the world around them. The narrative adopts a standard path full of predictable twists and turns, but because Russell draws such intriguing and layered people, and steadily litters the screenplay with clever observations and forceful candour, it often has a far deeper emotional blow than it perhaps should.
It’s never overwrought with emotion though, and Russell is somewhat a master of evoking wit from the darkest of situations. Whether its Dolores’ penchant for “crabby snacks and homemades”, Pat Jr.’s borderline OCD or the dysfunctional family dynamic Pat struggles to reintegrate himself into, the well-placed humour and multi-strand approach beautifully undercuts the seriousness of each characters’ varied difficulties. No character is better or worse off than the other, and the film maintains a brilliant equilibrium from start to finish.
The solid foundation carved by Russell, as well as the terrific way he divides the material between the entire ensembles cast (Chris Tucker and Julia Stiles make noteworthy impressions in their brief roles), is only bolstered further by the performances delivered by the central cast. Weaver and De Niro suit the material to a tee, particularly De Niro who’s the best he’s been in years. But it’s Cooper and Lawrence who steal the show as Pat and Tiffany, delivering some of their best work and cementing their statuses as serious talents.
It’s here, through Cooper and Lawrence’s palpable chemistry and sharp delivery of Russell’s piercing dialogue, that Silver Linings Playbook truly shines. Russell and cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi’s roving, sometimes intrusive shooting style, compliments the film well, framing the playful, tense and wanton relationship between Pat and Tiffany – and the longing they have for one another – perfectly. It’s not only a film that manages to be serious and humorous in equal measures, but also one that’s striking in its commitment to illustrating authentic, adrift people.