The most startling thing about Silver Linings Playbook is its complete embrace of being unhinged. A film that revolves around mental health issues should feel unpredictable, even if people stubbornly want to shoehorn the film into the romantic comedy genre. Let me be clear here, then, that I never felt Silver Linings fell into that genre. In fact, it doesn’t play fair. This isn’t a neat film. When Jennifer Lawrence’s Tiffany is introduced to Bradley Cooper’s Pat, we see his gaze drift to her breasts ever so casually. When he looks up, we see recognition in her eyes. She doesn’t admonish him there, but later we understand this attention isn’t uncommon for her nor unwanted. Which is actually even more disturbing.
After the death of her husband, Tiffany seems to embrace wanton intercourse with various individuals to fill a void. Perhaps it’s the desire of being intimate and feeling close with someone, but that’s left for us to decide. The result is a destructive livelihood where she doesn’t commit to anyone because she keeps running from her troubles.
Pat, on the otherhand, is dedicated to a single goal: getting back with his estranged wife Nikki. He’s freshly back from an eight-month stint in a mental health institution after nearly killing his wife’s lover in a fit of rage. He’s clearly not stable, and yet knows this. Together, Tiffany and Pat should simply ignite in a ball of fire, but a funny thing happens. Their issues seem to balance each other, and they find a way they can be of mutual benefit.
Writer/director David O. Russell seems aware that people around these individuals are often part of the problem, as well. Everywhere we turn, whether it’s Pat’s father (Robert De Niro) and his obsessive superstitions concerning the Philadelphia Eagles or the police officer that knows of Tiffany’s loose reputation and hits on her, the population around these two are far from models of stability. I’ll admit that I’ve never been a big fan of Cooper’s dramatic turns thus far, here he shines. This is easily his greatest performance to date, with his stunted speech and outward confidence that fails to hide his inner insecurities.
However, it’s Lawrence that is the reason the film is elevated far beyond simply being good. She manages to balance being vulgar, confident, troubled, insecure, sensual, pitiful, and youthful all in one stunning role, and sometimes in the same scene. The sheer gamut of emotions she both emotes and elicits from the audience is dizzying. You never know what will come out of her mouth, and it’s a delightful turn from one of the biggest and best actresses in film right now.
Outside of the performances itself, we are shown the connection sports can have across race, gender, and class. The Phildelphia Eagles are well known in professional football for having fantatical fans that also happen to be violent, beligerent, and rude. They once booed and threw snowballs at a man dressed as Santa Claus during a halftime show in the late 60s. And Pat has a family and various friends filled with fans. They’re all similarly obsessed, which makes the highs and lows of the regular season feel like wild swings in weather. Russell again achieves unexpected depth from this theme. Silver Linings Playlist proves that Russell’s success with The Fighter wasn’t an abberation. A revelation and a refreshing piece of cinema, this is one film that should not be missed.