Silver Linings Playbook
You have poor social skills. You have a problem.
David O. Russell is a director that I first discovered with 2010’s great movie, The Fighter. With that movie he took a very simple story that we’ve all heard before, yet he made it seem fresh because of well-written dialogue and strong performances. It was an emotional roller coaster that put a completely different spin on the boxer down-on-his-luck story.
With Silver Linings Playbook O. Russell did something similar. We have what appears to be a very simple story about a man trying come back to society after some mental issues, and how his path collides with a girl and both of their lives change as a result. But again, and even more so than with The Fighter, he completely turns the formula on its head, giving us real situations with real character that convey real emotion. These are situations that are so believable and so well done that it’s that much easier to connect to them.
The story follows Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) who has bi-polar disorder. He has just been released from a mental health facility after 8 months of treatment, and he truly believes that he is all better. He is released to the care of his parents Pat Sr. and Dolores (played by Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver) and the relationship here is very interesting. Pat Sr. is very cautious about his son and doesn’t completely believe that he is 100% better (this goes back to prior events that I won’t delve into) but Dolores is very loving and just wants everything to be fine and back to normal.
However, Pat Jr. is instantly met with bad news, as he learns that his wife Nikki (Brea Bee) has moved out and that his family is going through some hard times. The film regularly returns to scenes where Pat Jr. is talking with his therapist Dr. Patel (Anupam Kher) about the incident that resulted in him being taken away. Basically, he caught his wife in the shower with another man, and they had the stereo on playing Pat and Nikki’s wedding song, “My Cherie Amour”. This sets him off and he beats the man in a fit of rage.
The true change for Pat comes when he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). She is another person who is coming off of a serious problem (her husband was killed) and the two of them are able to connect, as a result. However, Pat is still holding on to hope that he can get back to Nikki, so even though he really likes Tiffany, he is holding himself back. This is where you really feel for Tiffany’s character because she is completely committed to Pat with not only helping him but loving him and there is a good chance that she will not even have those feelings reciprocated.
Without question, the thing that makes this movie work SO WELL is the acting. Across the board you are given phenomenal performances, with Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro all being nominated for acting Oscars. Bradley Cooper was a big risk and I was very hesitant in thinking that he could pull off a role like this, but he was terrific. He towed the line of behaving regularly to slowly submitting to a bi-polar attack with such poise and nuance that really makes you believe this man is conflicted.
Jennifer Lawrence continues to knock each roll she takes out of the park and this could possibly be her best performance yet. She is a wise-ass who definitely gives a lot of comic relief to the movie, but she’s also where the most emotional parts of the movie come from. She shows so much range and command, and if there is one performance that deserves an Oscar over all the others it is this one.
Lastly, Robert De Niro comes out of nowhere and finds himself in a very good role in which he gives a - wait for it - great performance! He plays a man who is old-fashioned and tough but deep down he really just wants to reconnect with his son because he feels he didn’t give him as much love as he could have when he was younger. Welcome back, Bob!
On a less serious note; David O. Russell continues to put together fantastic soundtracks with his films. With The Fighter he had Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith and The Rolling Stones to name a few. This time a round we’re given more Zeppelin, Bob Dylan and two White Stripes songs. I want to emphasize the White Stripes songs, particularly the second one. The song is “Fell In Love With A Girl”, and I won’t spoil it but I will say that the way O. Russell incorporated it into the film was fantastic. I usually don’t pay much attention to soundtracks of films, but he has done an awesome job with them recently.
By this point, I am now anxiously awaiting whatever David O. Russell does next, because he has impressed the hell out of me with his last two movies. He is a master at taking familiar situations and breathing completely new life into them. Silver Linings Playbook on the surface is very familiar, but as we delve deeper to the core of the narrative we discover a story that is more realistic and emotional than most we have ever seen. This is perhaps his best film yet, and deserves all of the awards it has coming its way.