There has been much discussion this year about Louisville's current mega-starlet Jennifer Lawrence. This reviewer has followed her career over the past year with some interest. As has been mentioned multiple times before, Lawrence first made our city proud by obtaining an Oscar nomination for her performance in 2010's Winter's Bone, a film which was also deemed worthy of a Best Picture nomination. Her career has skyrocketed, landing her leading roles in three films this year – first, the surprisingly good  The Hunger Games (whose sequel will be released in November of next year), followed by the summer bomb  The House at the End of the Street. The third film entered theaters the day before Thanksgiving, opening to critical acclaim and even some early Oscar buzz – 'tis the season, after all.
Silver Linings Playbook  is the newest film by David O. Russell, whose previous film, 2010's The Fighter, earned him Academy Award nominations for Best Picture and Best Director. His most recent effort stars Bradley Cooper as Pat Solitano, a bi-polar man who has just been released from an eight-month stint in a mental hospital following a violent “incident.” He is serious about his reformation, attempting to better himself both physically and mentally so he can reconnect with his wife, who he is not allowed to contact due to a restraining order out against him. While living at his parents' house, he meets Tiffany Maxwell (Lawrence), a strange girl who is just as socially awkward as he is. They form a unique sort of friendship as she agrees to help him contact his wife if he will help her participate in a dance competition.
The casting could not be more perfect. Cooper breaks out of his usual sexy-man acting (a la The Hangover or Limitless) to deliver a flawless performance as a broken man desperately trying to hold it all together for what he believes to be the greatest force in the world – the perceived love between him and his wife. Not only is his acting effective and believable – it is also funny. The character of Pat does not believe in lies or secrets, having learned that they only cause problems. He thinks nothing of nonchalantly asking, “How'd [your husband] die?” or getting into an in-depth dinner-time discussion of various medications for mental illness.
But while Cooper is excellent throughout the entire film, the true magic of the movie comes out during his interactions with Lawrence. Tiffany is a dark woman who initially seems exceedingly apathetic about everything. Her husband had been killed recently, and in the aftermath she snapped and dealt with her grief in a very provocative way, which caused her to lose her job. She now also lives with her parents and counts on one thing as her personal therapy: the upcoming dance competition, which she knows she has no chance of winning, but, “It's fun and it makes me feel good.” Lawrence has never been better on the screen, likewise delivering a stunning performance which already has her as the favorite for the Academy Award for Best Actress – an honor which would be greatly deserved.
While the film may appear to be on the surface a somewhat quirky black comedy, a closer look reveals some deeper themes. The script, adapted by Russell from the novel by Matthew Quick, can feel at times almost hyperbolic – but not overly so. While Pat and Tiffany are the “crazy” ones, it often feels like everyone else is crazy, too – and maybe Pat and Tiffany are in actuality the most sane of anyone. They strive to see the world as it is, and aren't at all shy about making observations, no matter how awkward they may be. “We aren't liars like they are,” says Tiffany at one point. Meanwhile, Pat's father (Robert De Niro) bets everything on football games, relying obsessively – almost violently – on superstitions to “make” his team, the Philadelphia Eagles, win (arranging the remote controls a certain way, handling a special handkerchief, etc.). His friend Ronnie (John Ortiz) has a beautiful wife and is very successful in his career, but hates every single moment of it – his wife is a bitch and his job sucks his soul dry – but he remains intentionally in a hellish situation because he doesn't know how to change.
Silver Linings Playbook is ultimately a film about being happy and finding the good – the “silver lining” – in all of life's negativity. It is about the importance of personal reflection and change and making ourselves the best we can be. And while these themes may sound shmaltzy and cliché, it is due to a near-perfect execution by Russell, Cooper, and Lawrence that it succeeds so spectacularly.
Cover image: Rotten Tomatoes
Heading image: Internet Movie Database