A couple of years ago, director David O. Russell gave us “The Fighter,” one of my favorite movies of recent years. “The Fighter” was the story of a boxer from a New England factory town with an eccentric family, looking for his big break. “The Fighter” could have been another Rocky rip-off, like so many other boxing movies. But thanks to a great cast along with good writing and direction, “The Fighter” became a celebration of finding redemption within the context of family and community.
Russell’s latest film, “Silver Linings Playbook,” while different from “The Fighter” in many ways, contains many of the same themes. As the movie opens, Pat (Bradley Cooper) leaves a psychiatric hospital with his mother, Dolores. We learn that Pat suffers from bipolar disorder. He was sentenced to the psychiatric unit for eight months after an episode when he found his wife, Nikki, with another man. Pat flew into a rage and beat the man severely.
Upon his release, Pat returns to the home of his parents in Philadelphia. He is still very fragile, and does not want to take his medication because it makes him feel unfocused. His goal is to reconcile with Nikki, who has a restraining order against him.
Pat’s father, also named Pat (played by the great Robert De Niro) is an obsessive-compulsive football fan. Pat Sr., in his retirement, has become a bookie, taking bets on the Philadelphia Eagles. His greatest joy is to watch the games with his son.
One evening, Pat Jr. is invited to dinner at his friend’s house. There he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) who also has a psychiatric history. She has been on medication since suffering a breakdown after the sudden death of her husband. Tiffany, like Pat, is still fragile and subject to sudden outbursts. Pat and Tiffany are drawn to each other. However, Pat doesn’t want to get too close, as he still wants to reconcile with Nikki.
Pat and Tiffany get together for a meal at a diner that ends in a disastrous shouting match that spills into the street. Later, Tiffany agrees to deliver a message to Nikki if Pat will enter a dance competition with her. The rehearsals result in being therapeutic for both Pat and Tiffany, giving them the opportunity to focus and work together on a mutual goal. In a way, Tiffany is like the Amy Adams character in “The Fighter”: she’s tough, loving, and absolutely necessary for the main character’s growth. There can be tension between Tiffany and Pat’s family, but eventually it is resolved.
I don’t think “Silver Linings Playbook” is quite as good as “The Fighter,” but it sure comes close. “The Fighter” has such tremendous, award-winning performances from Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Melissa Leo. “Silver Linings Playbook” features fine performances by a large cast headed by Cooper, Lawrence, and De Niro, all of whom are prime candidates for Oscar nominations. Lawrence has already proved herself as one of our finest young actresses with her excellent performance in “Winter’s Bone” and the mega-hit “The Hunger Games.” De Niro gives one of his best performances in years. He’s very touching as a father trying to reach out to his son in the only way he knows how. Cooper’s performance is a breakthrough. Best known for the raunchy “Hangover” comedies, he does a great job as the troubled Pat, trying hard to control himself and get his life back on track. Both Pat Jr. and Tiffany have an edge to them that keeps the audience off guard; you don’t know if they’re going to hold it together or explode. It took a while for both of them to win me over, but they did. After that, I was rooting for them all the way.
“Silver Linings Playbook” has the Catholic sensibility that Russell displayed in “The Fighter.” The characters are saved in the context of an imperfect family and community. Pat Sr. and Dolores are tested severely by Pat Jr., but hang in there with him. Along with Pat Jr.’s brother and a few others, they form a community in which they can all grow and heal. Suspicious of Tiffany at first, she is also accepted into the family.
“Silver Linings Playbook” is marketed as a comedy. It may not sound very funny, and is probably more of a “dramedy.” The humor comes from the characters and situations, and is never forced.
I liked “Silver Linings Playbook” a lot. It deals with the craziness of people today, and still finds manages to find hope. It’s a good way to start off a new year.
Tom Condon, OP