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Award Nominee

Silver Linings Playbook



Reviewer: Craig Williams

Director: David O’Russell

Stars: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro

Released: November 21st 2012

Silver Linings Playbook, an adaptation of the novel by Matthew Quick, marks David O. Russell’s first return to comedy since 2004’s I Heart Huckabees. While it partly recalls the squirm-inducing awkwardness of 1996’s Flirting with Disaster, Russell manages to make Silver Linings Playbook a more satisfying proposition by infusing the comedy with the emotional resonance and technical sophistication of his more dramatic films, resulting in a poignant and uplifting crowd-pleaser which isn’t afraid of confronting the painful realities of mental illness and marital failure.

Bradley Cooper plays Pat, a former teacher who returns to his family home in suburban Philadelphia from an eight-month stint in a mental institution. Pat tells his weary parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver) that he’s in better shape than he’s ever been and, vowing to find the silver lining in every situation, is determined to win back his estranged wife despite a restraining order against him (for reasons which become clearer as the film progresses). But it’s not long before Pat’s undiagnosed bipolar disorder comes to the fore, and Pat’s anxieties and delusions are destructively reasserted.

During a dinner party at an old friend’s house, Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a young widow with whom he shares a propensity for capriciousness and the complete absence of a verbal filter. The pair strike up a strange friendship which is played out against the backdrop of familial tensions and mental instability.


Both leads have never been better, finding the right balance between vulnerability and volatility. Cooper, in particular, gives a brilliantly open-hearted performance which is full of warmth. The pairing works exceptionally well; they bounce off each other, giving the film a real energy.

There’s an offbeat charm to the dialogue between Pat and Tiffany, with their awkwardness resulting in some abrasive but hilariously frank and tactless conversations. It’s to Cooper and Lawrence’s credit that their chemistry helps elicit a sense of pathos from the spiky dialogue. By covering up an obvious mutual attraction through gauche one-liners and acidic bickering, the dialogue plays out like a particularly off-kilter Howard Hawks film.

Russell’s assured direction, combined with cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi’s hyperactive camera work and editor Jay Cassidy’s jittery rhythms, gives Silver Linings Playbook a nervous energy and uniquely syncopated flow. Whilst this provides the film with a dynamic and invigorating drive, it also immerses the audience, helping us get into Pat’s upbeat but unstable mindset. It’s unusual to see a romantic comedy demonstrate this kind of technical sophistication whilst still retaining a rounded and convincing emotional core.

Narratively, there’s no denying that Silver Linings Playbook is uneven, with its myriad digressions and occasionally leftfield plot developments, but this is a part of its charm. While the digressions sometimes allow the pace to slacken, they let us spend more time with the film’s fascinating characters, creating a warm portrait not only of two damaged individuals, but of all the people around them, ably performed by a supporting cast operating at the top of their game.

Indeed, the wider the net is cast in Silver Linings Playbook, the more thematic certainty develops. We begin to understand that it’s a film about imbalanced people and what keeps them holding on. Whether it’s a newlywed man being crushed by his marital responsibilities (John Ortiz) or a man desperate to escape from the mental institution (Chris Tucker), Silver Linings Playbook is full of frayed people struggling to find the silver lining.

One of the most unexpected pleasures of the film is a reinvigorated Robert De Niro. Pat Sr. runs a betting business in the hope of making enough money to buy a steak restaurant. Sharing a similar instability and volatility with his son, he is an avid fan of a local football team whose stadium he can no longer visit after being banned for fighting. Just like Pat Jr.’s elusive silver linings, Pat Sr. is a man placing his faith in the mysteries of the universe, driven by his own superstitions and OCD. De Niro has not been this good in years; his performance is as compassionate as it is energetic. It’s a real delight to see him back on form.

By shading the standard romantic comedy blueprint with some moderately subversive elements, Russell finds a level of poignancy and emotional resonance which is all too rare in mainstream comedies these days. Silver Linings Playbook is an endearing and heartfelt triumph.

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