This is a delightful movie about lovably crazy people. Silver Linings Playbook was smartly written, wonderfully acted, and full of life from beginning to end. If you want the gist of this review without reading through all of the below banter, I’ll sum it up with this. Go see this movie. Matthew Quick, the author of the novel from which this movie was based, and David O. Russell who did the screenplay and directed the movie itself, should both be commended much here at the start. It’s a very hard line to walk sometimes when writing a story with characters that have heavy mental and/or emotional issues. It is really easy and typical of lesser films/books to go overboard and turn the whole affair into a complete farce, or to play the pity card too much and turn it into a Lifetime movie of the week. Silver Linings Playbook does neither of these things. It understands its characters and empathizes with them, and presents them with dignity to us, even when they behave in undignified and very quirky ways.
We start with Patrick Solitano Jr., played here by Bradley Cooper, a former school teacher, now just being released from a mental institution in Baltimore. On the day of his release, Patrick’s mother picks him up as well as his friend and fellow patient Danny (Chris Tucker) until it is discovered that Danny was not cleared for release, and Pat’s mother abruptly turns the car around to return him to the institution. So much for a fresh start. For Patrick the entire world revolves around one thing and one thing only, getting his life together and maintaining a positive attitude so that he can achieve his “silver lining” that being a reunion with his estranged wife Nikki (the impetus for his being institutionalized in the first place). Given the sordid details of their separation, the chances of this happening are shown as being slim to none right from the start, but Patrick still doggedly and defiantly believes that with enough persistence and time, that perhaps there’s still a chance that she will take him back and they can resume their old life together, and he focuses himself on this goal exclusively and single mindedly throughout the film. He stays up late nights reading his wife’s, who was/is also a teacher, at the same school as he was, complete syllabus, including a classic work by Ernest Hemingway, whose unhappy ending drives Patrick, who is so intent on a happy ending to his own story, to toss the book through his bedroom window and awake his parents at three in the morning to lambaste the late author for his perceived heartless gall.
Patrick’s parents, Pat senior, played by Robert Deniro in one of his best recent roles in a long time, and Dolores, played by Jacki Weaver are a movie all to themselves. For Pat Sr. life also revolves around one thing and one thing only, that being his beloved Philadelphia Eagles, whose every game he has in his massive video tape collection. Pat Sr. is one of those obsessive compulsive, not to mention superstitious people for who luck and karma are not just idle ideas, but dangerous and sensitive elements that can be offset by the most simple of things. He has three television remotes on the table next to his extra wide recliner, all which must be pointed in the exact same direction at all times. He makes his living running a sports book out of his office, and foolishly gambles the money he has saved up to start his dream restaurant on Eagles games with his friend (or better put ‘frenemy’) and devoted Cowboys fan, Randy. On one very truly felt level you believe that Patrick Sr. wants to watch the football games with Pat Jr. so he can have some tangible connection to his truly troubled son, but on a much more apparent level you sense that it is mainly his superstition that his Eagles simply perform better when Pat Jr. is seated next to him for the game. It is simply “meant to be” he informs everyone. Poor Dolores, has no chance at all in this madhouse, but lovingly troopers on and does the best she can with these two difficult family members, but is completely trampled by their neurosis in most scenes nonetheless. You get the idea that’s she’s kind of used to it by now though.
Everyone circles their wagons around Pat Jr. to attempt to help him get things together and to dissuade him from his unhealthy obsession with reconnecting with his wife Nikki. He has a court mandated doctor he must see, and medication he should, but doesn’t always take. The doctor here has a limited time frame with which to work due to Patrick seemingly doing at least a dozen or more things on a daily basis that if seen by the wrong people would send him straight back to Baltimore. So he attempts to break through to the core of Patrick’s problems very early on, playing on his many different triggers, including playing the song ‘My Cherie Amour’ by Stevie Wonder in their first encounter, which sends poor Patrick into an uncontrollable rage. The song was his and Nikki’s wedding song, and also was the song that was playing that fateful day he came home to find her in the shower with the school’s tenured history teacher that Patrick beat almost to death in the immediate aftermath.
Also trying to help Patrick here are his friends Ronnie and his wife Veronica (Julia Styles). They invite Patrick to dinner at their place one night to set him up on a blind date with Veronica’s sister, a recently widowed and deeply disturbed woman named Tiffany Maxwell. Tiffany, played here in a great sensitive and off the wall performance by Jennifer Lawrence, is attempting to recover from the very recent loss of her police officer husband, and the bizarre circumstances that lead to his death that she unfortunately blames on herself. Tiffany and Patrick find that they are kindred spirits from the start. They both have no filter due to their respective emotional disorders and distress and cut through the usual expected patronizing small talk that Ronnie and Veronica awkwardly attempt to impose upon them. They spend their first meeting together horrifying their dinner hosts by rattling off the names of several prescription medications they both have been put on in the past few years. Patrick instinctively does everything he can to ruin this relationship with inappropriate comments that you sense he cannot help, and other off-putting mannerisms. They end their first “date” with Tiffany forcefully kissing, and then equally forcefully slapping the stunned Patrick. For the rest of the movie Patrick and Tiffany will perform a marvelous emotional tango around and into one another.
One of Tiffany’s hobbies that she uses to distract herself with these days is competitive dancing. She’s a mediocre dancer at best, but it’s the spirit with which she does it that counts. Tiffany devises a brilliant scheme to bring Patrick out of his shell, and to get to spend more time with him. She agrees to be the go between for Patrick and Nikki (who has a restraining order with a no contact clause) and make sure she gets his letters and give him her replies, provided he commit to be her partner at an upcoming ballroom dance competition that will feature many of the most beautiful and talented dancers in the region. Patrick reluctantly agrees, mostly out of sheer desperation to get through to his wife. And so they begin spending more and more time together, practicing, talking, fighting, and just generally existing together. It is in these scenes where the true heart of the movie lies. Watching these two characters, and these two actors interact was one of the more overwhelming joys of my recent cinematic memory. Everything is handled with a sweetness and good natured understanding of human nature that is all too rare in movies these days.
As Patrick spends more and more time with the deranged Tiffany, he of course spends less and less time with his deranged father watching his beloved Eagles, which deeply concerns Pat Sr. to say the least. Tiffany and Pat Sr. have an unavoidable confrontation in which Tiffany, again brilliantly points out that Pat’s Eagles (as well as his other sports teams) have been performing best during the times when she and Patrick Jr. have been together. This is persuasion enough for Pat Sr. who offers no more objections to the two of them seeing each other.
The movie culminates all of the above story threads in a manner which some may see as all too convenient, but one that still worked for me, and very satisfyingly at that. At the aforementioned ballroom dance competition, in which Patrick and Tiffany will be competing, Patrick Sr. who recently lost all of his savings in a poorly placed football bet, places another crazy double or nothing bet with his friend Randy (that also hinges on Pat’s Eagles beating Randy’s Cowboys on the same day) that Tiffany and Patrick will score at least a score of 5.0 (out of a possible 10) from the judges. The outside motivating factor for Pat Jr. is that Nikki (according to Tiffany) is supposed to be attending this function with her sister and Nikki’s best friend, Veronica. So at this one event hangs the dreams of Patrick’s father for his restaurant business, Patrick’s dream of impressing and reuniting with his estranged wife Nikki, and of course, Tiffany’s dream of convincing Patrick to remain with her.
I know, reading all of that above may make this sound very much like a Lifetime movie to some, but I urge you not to let that stop you from seeing this picture as this is on a quality so far above that kind of fare that it does not even deserve comment. This movie achieves the perfect balancing act of a sweet romantic love story, three separate stories of personal redemption, and it’s also damn funny throughout, if I forgot to mention that. There is so much great acting here that I don’t even know where to start. Bradley Cooper is flat out perfect in this manic tour de force performance. Jennifer Lawrence is equally impressive, and all the more amazing is that she was only 21 when this movie was made. I read that Zooey Deschanel was originally wanted for the role of Tiffany, and, as huge a fan of hers as I am, and as good as I’m sure she would have been, she could at best have only equaled this performance. Deniro is also tremendous as the desperate father figure, and we get solid supporting roles from the likes of Shea Wigam (of Boardwalk Empire) as Pat’s older brother, and Chris Tucker is not at all what you’d expect from his more boisterous performances in the role of Pat’s friend Danny.
It’s not very many movies that have characters that I found myself caring about as much as I cared about the ones in Silver Linings Playbooks, and fewer movies still that manage to reward my emotional investment in said characters with such a satisfactory cinematic experience on top of that. This movie does what only the best of movies can do; it takes you on a journey that lets you see the world in a new way, through the point of view of some very interesting, and admittedly very neurotic and quixotic people. I know I’m late on the bandwagon here and I hate to sound so appallingly gushing, but I again say as someone with no reason to promote this other than the sake of my readers interest in seeing good movies (I was provided with no review copy and have no connection with any of the filmmakers whatsoever) that for those few stragglers out there who might be holding out on seeing this film, I urge you in the strongest manner I possibly can short of physical force to give it a chance. You’ll be glad you did. Thanks for reading.
Silver Linings Playbook gets a four out of five: GREAT.