Silver Linings Playbook rides the line between comedy and drama. The movie chronicles the struggle of Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper), a teacher recently released from a mental institution on a plea bargain, to patch up his marriage and cope with his newly-discovered bipolar disorder. He emerges with an unwaveringly positive outlook on life that is then put to the test by the uncertainty and apprehension of his family members.
To communicate with his wife, who cheated on him and has a restraining order against him, Pat enlists the help of his recently widowed neighbor Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who is also trying to get her life back on track. She agrees to help him, if he will fulfill an important goal of hers in return: dance with her in the town's annual ballroom competition. Meanwhile, Pat's father attempts to reconnect with him, turning him into a good luck charm for Philadelphia Eagles football games.
Director David O. Russell, whose previous credits include the Academy Award-winning film The Fighter, tackles serious issues such as mental illness and associated coping mechanisms in a way that leaves the audience feeling uplifted, rather than emotionally drained. Silver Linings Playbook also explores the sanctity of relationships, whether they be between father and son or between husband and wife. The audience is caught between intense confrontations and awkward interactions. The film's emotions shift, like between scenes of a weeping and guilt-ridden father and those of failed dance lifts involving Pat and Tiffany. This sort of roller coaster ride parallels Pat's own mood swings and makes the movie seem all the more realistic. At the same time, it allows viewers to somewhat partake in his recovery.
Pat is stubbornly optimistic about rekindling his love with his wife (despite the fact that she cheated on him), but avoids the label as someone who is "saved" by others or by medicine. Though he has the support of Tiffany, his parents (played by Jacki Weaver and Robert De Niro), therapist (Anupam Kher) and friend (Chris Tucker), Pat ultimately discovers the coping strategy best suited for him is one he develops himself. His physical exercise consists of daily neighborhood jogs while wearing a trash bag (to absorb the sweat), while his mental exercise includes reading books like Hemingway (unsatisfying endings make it okay to chuck A Farewell to Arms out the window). Russell's treatment of mental illness avoids a dependence on medication, focusing instead on self-motivated recovery. For Pat and Tiffany, this recovery is much more laborious. The film sheds light on the difficulties of shame and public perception they must face on a daily basis. By doing so, Russell only adds to the strength of these characters, who represent the true strength of human nature. What is perhaps the film's greatest achievement is that those parts of peoples' personalities that are perhaps deemed defective or need fixing are in fact the parts that should be embraced and make individuals unique.
Silver Linings Playbook is definitely what some would call "less mainstream," partially due to its genre as a comedy-drama and partially due to the simplicity and straightforwardness of the film's dialogue. Both Cooper and Lawrence give great performances. They go from borderline psychotic to indifferent to socially unacceptable, so that the audience is laughing one moment and on the verge of tears the next. Their relationship initially seems antagonistic, because of Pat's father's distaste for Tiffany's "crazy" reputation. The expected outcome was an antagonistic relationship that would force Pat to choose either his father or Tiffany. However, Russell, who also adapted the screenplay from Matthew Quick's book of the same name, sidesteps this. Lawrence shines in a scene of confrontation with De Niro, throwing out impressive baseball statistics to argue for Pat to rehearse with her. Pat's father is in awe, and embraces her as a member of the family almost immediately. Russell thus remains true to the film's optimistic theme – people can surprise you.
Silver Linings Playbook also delves into the importance of Pat's familial relationships, with the Eagles football obsession as a superstition that somehow binds them together. The two narratives, though fragmented at times, eventually come together rather seamlessly in an all-or-nothing deal dependent on the Eagles' victory and Pat and Tiffany's success in the ballroom competition. Pat's motto, "Excelsior" (the Latin word meaning "ever upward"), connects these two goals with his ultimate healing. Silver Linings Playbook relies on the power of love, but portrays it less as a textbook romance and more as a mutually beneficial coping mechanism that is possible even between oddballs such as Pat and Tiffany. Russell's development of their relationship sparks inspiration for the audience to likewise find "silver linings" in their own lives, to appreciate them, and to pursue them.
Silver Linings Playbook (R, 2 hr 2 mins), opens Wednesday, Nov. 21.