A huge surprise after lukewarm trailers, Silver Linings Playbook is one of the best films of the year with amazing performances and an emotionally challenging story.
After seeing the trailers for this movie, even knowing that it was written and directed by the terrific David O. Russell, I had totally written it off as a run of the mill romantic comedy. When I went to the screening I did so with the expectation that I would absolutely hate it. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Silver Linings Playbook tells the story of Pat (Bradley Cooper) a teacher who is being released from court ordered treatment at a psychiatric hospital for beating his wife’s lover almost to death when he came home early and found them in the shower together. Pat has fairly severe bi-polar disorder with fairly massive manic episodes that lead him to irrational decisions, paranoid delusions, and impulsive and violent acting out and in treatment he has been put on meds and stabilized. Upon getting out he sets about trying to put his life back together and show his wife that he is ready to be with her again. Unfortunately he attempts to do this by ceasing to take his medication. Moving back in with his parents does not help matters as his father (Robert DeNiro) has quit his regular job to devote full time to bookmaking. Pat and his dad clash as his dad does not understand what his son is going through and has some fairly sever Obsessive Compulsive disorder issues of his own. Pat flounders and struggles until he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) an emotionally troubled widow who has taken to promiscuity and acting out to compensate for her loss. Pat is not magically cured for knowing Tiffany but the two begin to find some kind of equilibrium and in each other they find some kind of balance.
I work in a crisis response center with seriously mentally ill clients who are suicidal and homicidal so I look films about mental illness with a very critical eye. I am perpetually annoyed with the view of mental health that all the people in psychiatric treatment are just quirky goofballs who just need to have a plucky protagonist come in and upend the system to allow them to break free of societal norms and magically be okay or for the plucky protagonist to find love and all of their problems are conquered. This is just not the case and the Silver Linings Playbook has one of the keenest eyes I have ever seen on how mental illness functions and the ramifications it has on people’s lives. There are no easy outs here and while the movie is funny at times and light hearted at others there are some very deep and disturbing moments here.
Silver Linings Playbook could be called a romantic comedy as there is romance and there is comedy but it transcends the genre with the amount of substance it offers and the depth to which it offers that substance. All of the characters presented here are complex and struggle with their own issues and the difficulty of those issues and personalities to mix and interact form the backbone of the film. The earnestness of Pat to repair the damage in his life and how hard he tries not to succumb to feelings of guilt for what he did while also battling the delusional architecture he has built up allows for very complex interactions particularly with his father who is so obsessed with order and structure he is truly convinced that the person holding the remote will determine the outcome of football games. Pat’s relationship with Tiffany is functionally dysfunctional as she brings more than her share of baggage to the proceedings and when that baggage is added to his it becomes overwhelming for the both of them to carry but still they press on, each with their own selfish purposes without perfect understanding of what they are building together.
There is an easy road this movie could follow and many studio films would have taken it but thankfully Russell delivers a movie that expects more and gives the audience a deep and meaningful gift. It is a gift that is hard to watch but it is ultimately inspiring and fulfilling. Particularly given my expectations going into the film I was blown away by what I walked away with.
As good as the writing and direction is here, the film would have fallen to pieces had the performances not been up to snuff. Bradley Cooper absolutely nails Pat and gives the most spot on and convincing portrayal of mental illness I have ever seen in a movie. Watching his depiction of manic episodes made me feel like I was at work and I was very impressed by how authentic it felt. Likewise, Robert DeNiro delivers his best performance in 10 years as a man completely oblivious to his illness and who is unaware of the torment he inflicts on those around him because of it. Jennifer Lawrence is amazing herself as Tiffany as a hurt and broken woman who is unwilling to give up on life or her dreams despite how dysfunctional that life has become. Chris Tucker is also excellent as a fellow patient Pat met in the hospital.
This is not a movie about ‘getting over’ mental illness but it is rather a film about finding your feet and living with it. It is about functioning and not being overcome and overwhelmed by mental illness. It is about finding a way to survive. It is about finding the silver linings that make life livable. In this way, for all the darkness and hardship, it is one of the most uplifting and inspiring movies I have ever seen.
Conclusion [10 out of 10]
Silver Linings Playbook is absolutely one of the best movies of the year and, if you can stomach the intensity, it is a must see. The performances alone are worth the price of admission but the story is inspiring and fulfilling in its own right. I have always been a fan of Russell but this may very well be his best work. If Cooper and DeNiro are not at least nominated for Oscars it will be a tragedy. I loved this movie a lot and recommend it highly.