35. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Director: David O. Russell

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker, Anupam Kher, Julia Stiles, John Ortiz

Suffice it to say that 2012 was a great year for movies. “Silver Linings Playbook” is one of the most honest portrayals of mental illness I’ve ever seen committed to film. But most of all, it is a movie filled with top-notch casting, from top to bottom. “Silver Linings Playbook” features a pairing which might have seemed unlikely at first, yet became something more as time went on. In this way, fiction mirrors reality. The plausibility of teaming of 37-year old Bradley Cooper with the not quite 22-year old Jennifer Lawrence was doubted by many… even by director David O. Russell… due to their age difference, and in fact neither actor was the original choice for their role. As much as I like Vince Vaughn and Zooey Deschanel, I cannot imagine those two creating the type of chemistry necessary for this movie to present itself authentically. Yes, “Silver Linings Playbook” would lack a certain amount of gravitas without one of the most ideal acting duos in recent memory.

Bradley Cooper is an actor whose career I’ve been following ever since his run on the TV series “Alias” as Jennifer Garner’s best friend, Will Tippin. It saddened me when, after Season 2,  he was reduced from a regular cast member to a guest star on special occasions, but I hoped I would see him in other things soon. The first would be 2005’s “Wedding Crashers,” where he almost steals the show as the antagonistic Sack Lodge. But it wasn’t until 2009’s “The Hangover” that Cooper was finally gaining the recognition I always knew he deserved. With this raunchy buddy comedy and its sequels, Cooper became a household name and could now look for roles that might otherwise have passed him by.

In 2012’s “Silver Linings Playbook” as Pat Solitano, Jr., the former teacher-turned-mental patient with a diagnosed case of Bipolar Disorder, Cooper takes his career to a whole new level. A less talented actor might not have allowed the audience to get solidly behind Pat in his attempt to repair his life following his diagnosis and the incident that left him institutionalized: catching his wife in their shower with a fellow teacher, and subsequently beating the man within an inch of his life. Pat is also deathly afraid of his wedding song, Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour,” which was playing during the incident. At times when his anxiety levels are at their highest, he hears the song even when it isn’t playing. Then one night at a dinner date he meets Tiffany Maxwell, a girl who seems strange to him at first but, over time, becomes someone with whom he is able to relate.

Jennifer Lawrence, whose career I am only just beginning to sample, is one of the most talented actresses, if not THE most talented, of her generation. Not only is she able to make a bad movie (“House at the End of the Street”) at least watchable, but more importantly she is also able to display a wide range of emotions. Take for example the action immediately following the much-talked about diner scene (the one many have said led to her winning Best Actress). Tiffany has just stormed out of the diner, feeling taken advantage of after opening up to Pat about becoming a sex addict in response to the sudden demise of her husband. Pat catches up to her in front of a movie theater, where they have a heated conversation that catches the attention of those standing in line. In this one scene, she appears wounded, angry, perhaps even a little fearful and, after the cops have shown up and Pat starts hearing that song in his head again, regretful and sympathetic. Now she moves in to comfort him and get him to calm down. You can see in her eyes that this is the moment when Tiffany has fallen in love with Pat. She understands him because of the hurt she has been through in her own life. There’s no doubt in my mind that Lawrence deserved to be recognized as one of the youngest Best Actress winners in history (she “beat Meryl Streep” by nine years). Time will tell, but if it’s me reading the signs, I think that she has a very long and successful career ahead of her.

On the subject of acting, I would be completely remiss if I didn’t at least mention Robert De Niro. One of my favorite actors for a very long time, De Niro’s career has unfortunately been experiencing a bit of a slump as of late. That is, until he landed the part of Pat Solitano, Sr. As the father of our protagonist, De Niro’s character has his own mental issues. Pat, Sr. has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Everything must be where he leaves it, and in a very precise order, right down to the last minute detail. He also practices gambling on his beloved Philadelphia Eagles’ football games to help finance his restaurant, and will insist until proven otherwise that Pat, Jr.’s presence while watching the games with him on TV is the only thing that will guide the Eagles to victory. De Niro’s best scene comes when father tearfully tells son that he feels guilty because, looking back, he believes he spent more time with the elder son that should have been devoted to Pat, Jr. It’s a really sweet moment that we know De Niro is perfectly capable of, but we haven’t seen from him in a while.

“Silver Linings Playbook” is more than just your typical romantic comedy. It’s one of those special movies that’s so endearing that you could start over and watch it twice in a row, provided you don’t have to get up and go someplace the next morning.

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Comments
  1. Ian Shuirr says:

    You should be getting paid to do this. Great review man.

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