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.
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 ****