The Movie Date is a weekly feature where we discuss movies that may appeal to the YA audience. Andrew is The Reading Date’s resident movie critic and this week he discusses the latest David O. Russell film: Silver Linings Playbook.
After traumatizing his wife and being institutionalized, an earnest man decides to win back the affections of his spouse and involves a sweet but unstable woman in his plans.
Let’s get one thing out of the way right off the bat, and if this is a spoiler for you then you’ve apparently never seen a romantic comedy. In the process of working together to win the wife back, the man (Bradley Cooper) and helpful woman (Jennifer Lawrence) do develop some interest in one another. And that’s all I’ll say on the matter. This is a familiar plot structure—it’s called “road trip romance” — and you’ve seen it in everything from It Happened One Night to The Sure Thing to Tangled, Stardust, and even Shrek. It’s a charming structure, one that’s most rewarding with talented lead actors who can play convincingly the dumb surprise felt by both characters when they realize what’s really going on. And need I say Cooper and Lawrence are both up to the task…
But let’s back up a bit. One sunny day, bipolar Pat (Cooper) is sprung from a rather prosaic mental institution by his doting mom Dolores (Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom), much to the surprise of his father Pat Sr. (Robert DeNiro). Dad’s addicted to placing huge bets on the local football team the Philadelphia Eagles, and believes that his OCD-ritualized actions can actually change the outcome of the game. He’s eager to have “good luck charm” Pat watch every competition with him so he can start winning big.
But Pat’s got his own obsession going: he’s trying to rekindle the affections of his estranged wife Nikki. He’s desperate to communicate with her even though a restraining order prohibits all contact. Into his life saunters outspoken, off-kilter, and newly widowed Tiffany (Lawrence), very much the bird with the broken wing. She offers to smuggle a letter written by Pat to Nikki, who she sees often. But Tiffany has one demand: Pat must partner with her in an upcoming amateur dance competition. And who knows? The take-no-prisoners way she deals with him might just speed up his healing process…
On paper this may sound like a standard rom-com, but Silver Linings Playbook surpasses that genre’s often minimal standards with a degree of candor and brutal honesty we don’t see much on screen. And amidst the laughs and romance there are many moments of anger, suspense, courage, and poignancy. DeNiro is great as the backslapping, beer-drinking patriarch plagued with genuine fears and self-doubts. Bradley Cooper is the best we’ve seen him: his Pat is so tragically convinced that Nikki loves him and wants him back that we almost believe it, too.
But the big winner here is the amazing Jennifer Lawrence, such an intuitively nuanced actress that I don’t think she realizes how good she is. The role is a wonderful departure from the hardheaded survivalist teens she portrayed in Winter’s Bone and The Hunger Games; here she plays an adult—a complicated one—far beyond her twenty-two years. She tackles Tiffany’s amazing range—from flirtatious to confrontational, from playful to wounded—with amazing ease. This already superb film gets 30% better every time she’s on screen, which happily is a lot. The film is a lot of fun to watch, and unlike a lot of comedies it lingers pleasantly in the mind for days and weeks afterwards.
Silver Linings Playbook is rated R and is now playing in limited release.