I’m not usually a fan of romantic comedies or romantic dramedies or comedic dramas or whatever you want to call them, but Silver Linings Playbook easily tops my list of “whatever they are” for 2012. Funny and odd yet warm and heartfelt, not to mention powered by possibly the best ensemble cast of the year, it is a worthy Best Picture nominee that ticks the right boxes and pulls the right strings.
The slant of Silver Linings Playbook is mental illness, a risky angle that paid off when it could have easily backfired. Bradley Cooper plays Pat, a seemingly regular dude who has lost a lot of weight while being in a mental institution after suffering a breakdown (for reasons that are later explained). He returns home to his parents, played by Robert De Niro and Aussie Jacki Weaver, and continues to hope to rekindle his relationship with estranged wife Nikki. He sees his shrink and goes about making people uncomfortable until he meets kindred spirit Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence, who won the Best Actress Oscar for this role), a young woman battling her own mental demons. And so begins an unusual, quirky and volatile friendship that directs both damaged characters onto a journey of healing.
It doesn’t really sound like enthralling cinema, but the sharp script (based on the book of the same name by Matthew Quick) and direction by David O Russell (The Fighter) elevates Silver Linings Playbook far above your average comedy or drama. It is a rare feat when both the jokes and the drama are spot on, and I can’t remember the last time I saw a film that was hilarious but not crude, dramatic but not melodramatic, sweet but not saccharine. Silver Linings Playbook achieves all of these.
This film, as is the case with all good films, is driven by its characters and their relationships. Of course, Pat and Tiffany dominate, but all the supporting characters have a story to tell as well. Pat’s father is a superstitious wreck, while Pat’s friends Ronnie and Veronica are in a struggling relationship that I’m sure will ring true to a lot of couples. Even Chris Tucker, who plays Pat’s friend from the mental institution, is an interesting fellow I wanted to see more of.
The characters and their relationships are driven by the phenomenal performances. I never thought of Bradley Cooper as much of a thespian, but he’s really convincing and makes Pat a likable protagonist you want to root for. I think it is by far the best performance of his career.
Jennifer Lawrence (sigh…). Just when I thought I couldn’t like her any more than I already do, she pulls off last year’s best performance as Tiffany, a beautiful, seductive, explosive and manipulative woman who has no idea how to deal with her pain. She’s that good, and with all due respect to the other Best Actress nominees, Lawrence is absolutely a deserving winner. Kate Winslet’s spot as my fave actress is in grave danger.
I don’t even need to mention the typically brilliant De Niro, though Weaver, whose role is smaller than I expected, struck me as a weird Best Supporting Actress nominee. Sure she’s good, but she wasn’t really given much of an opportunity to shine. This wasn’t like Animal Kingdom where she would grab you by the balls and never let go.
Anyway…I don’t need to say much more except that Silver Linings Playbook is worthy of all the critical acclaim. Some may be put off by the mental illness aspect of it, others by the quirkiness or the more predictable elements of the plot (and I admit, there is a sense of inevitability about the outcome, especially as it draws closer to its conclusion), but it’ll be a tough task to find a better 2012 romantic comedy or romantic dramedy or comedic drama or whatever you want to call it.
4.25 stars out of 5