Friday, December 7, 2012

Review - Silver Linings Playbook

Like the bipolar protagonist at its centre, David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook is prone to wild mood swings at the drop of a hat. Fluctuating between wry humour, dramatic pathos, and earnest romance, it may not bring you any closer to understanding mental illness, but it makes for a surprisingly fun and satisfying picture.
In fact, the film actually downplays the severity of mental illness insomuch as it suggests that everybody is, to an extent, “crazy”. Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) – an undiagnosed bipolar having just completed his stay at a psychiatric hospital following a particularly violent episode – may be the character whose mental issues are addressed most directly, but we come to see how he's less strange when surrounded by his unstable family and friends. Be it his OCD father (Robert De Niro) who superstitiously insists on very specific conditions in order to win money on NFL games, his marriage-smothered best friend (John Ortiz), his mental ward cohort (Chris Tucker), or even his well-meaning but stifling mother (Jackie Weaver), everyone in his life exhibits some degree of “crazy”.

But none of them compare to Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a recent widow whose volatile depression makes Pat's ups and downs seem almost trifling in comparison. At once acerbically flirtatious and emotionally vulnerable, Tiffany's initial wooing doesn't go over so well with Pat, for whom the tortuous hope of reconciling with his estranged wife Nikki further fuels his mood swings. But Tiffany strikes a bargain to deliver a letter to Nikki on Pat's behalf if he agrees to participate with Tiffany in a dance contest. We delight in watching the healing begin for two characters who are not damaged minds in need of repair, but damaged souls in need of a silver lining.

In the hands of another director, Silver Linings Playbook's virtually soap-operatic plotting and tonal jumps may have come off as hackneyed contrivances. But Russell, who proved with The Fighter to have a hidden knack for crowd-pleasing character drama, is right at home exploring these compelling personalities and the chemistry between them. Using his actors as his primary vehicle for the film's mood, Russell uses jarring leaps between comedy and drama as a fitting depiction of Pat's ever-changing perception of the world around him.
The cast deserves plaudits for pulling off this up-and-down balancing act, especially Cooper, who is uncanny in his ease at creating an abrasive yet loveable hero. Indeed, a key improvement of Silver Linings Playbook over The Fighter is in its devotion to the central presence and more judicious contributions from the still colourful supporting players.

While a number of the story's far stretches and coincidences laugh in the face of believability, it should be understood that this isn't a film to scrutinize too harshly for such details. Its rich characterizations and feel-good afterglow are the attractions. And even if that isn't your cup of tea, the sheer entertainment value should still prove an adequate silver lining.

*** out of ****


  1. Realize that you haven't made any specific mention of Jennifer Lawrence's performance. Is it overpraised, or does it truly warrant the oscar-hype it is currently getting?

    1. She's very good, to be sure. But it isn't her best work, and I have a hard time picturing it as an Oscar-winning performance.