The romantic comedy isn’t dead. Nor is it strictly the formulaic cliché Hollywood has churned out for years. (500) Days of Summer, one of 2009’s best films, helped breathe life into a dying genre, as did this summer’s wonderful Ruby Sparks. Both are unconventional love stories where love doesn’t conquer all and relationships are forever works in progress.
Pushing boundaries even further is Silver Linings Playbook, a romantic comedy in only the broadest sense of the genre, which is to say the film is about the trials of love and it is wickedly — albeit darkly — funny. But Silver Linings Playbook is less about love than it is about people desperate to connect — troubled souls, some of whom are in love, and others who desperately want the same.
The story is built around Pat (Bradley Cooper), a husband devastated by his wife’s affair. Pat’s violent rage against her lover and subsequent emotional breakdown land him in a mental institution. And that’s where the film begins, with Pat, still in a fragile state, to be released into the custody of his parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver). He moves into an upstairs room of their home in a middle-class Philadelphia neighborhood, and plots how to return his life to the way it was, namely winning back his wife. A restraining order preventing him from seeing her stands as a major obstacle.
Silver Linings Playbook
Directed by David O. Russell. Screenplay by David O. Russell based on the novel by Matthew Quick. A Weinstein Company release, opening Christmas Day at Rave Levis Commons. Rated R for language and some sexual content/nudity. Running time: 122 minutes.
Critic’s Rating: *****
Bradley Cooper ...Pat
Jennifer Lawrence ...Tiffany
Robert De Niro ...Pat, Sr.Jacki
Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) is a neighborhood girl Pat meets through friends who promises to help him by passing along a love note to his estranged wife. Tiffany is damaged from a previous relationship as well, and like Pat, still lives at home. The two are more rivals than lovers at first, exchanging clever insults instead of affection. But as they spend more time together — as part of Tiffany’s agreeing to help Pat, he must be her dance partner in a competition — that dynamic becomes increasingly complicated.
Best known for the crass blockbuster The Hangover, Cooper expands his dramatic range considerably with Pat, a good man whose life is now defined by his mental state, and whose moments of uncensored anger or aggressive frustration are met with fear and concern. Family and friends treat him as a time bomb, with the police a frequent visitor to the home after any outburst. As much as Pat wants his life back, he also wants to get better. A significant amount of weight loss he managed while away is representational of his emotional baggage as well. He’s a changed man, desperate for everyone to see it.
His father, Pat, Sr., displays many of the same quirks and anger-management issues as his youngest son. He quarrels with his wife, obsesses over his beloved Philadelphia Eagles, and makes weekly bets on the NFL with a local bookie. Pat, Sr., is a poor role model as a husband: angry, selfish, and unable to show the affection he feels. His wife has long ago accepted his faults, while Pat increasingly blames his father for his own failings. Their fiery showdowns are ferocious and uncomfortable to watch; yet there is nothing said between father and son that doesn’t ring with authenticity in this age of ubiquitous dysfunction. This is De Niro’s best role in years and Cooper’s finest moment onscreen.
Unlike so many romantic comedies, Silver Linings Playbook doesn’t favor a gender, either.
Weaver, as a support system to the other roles, plays the loving mother who spends much of her life enabling the family’s dysfunction and playing peacemaker. While Lawrence’s Tiffany is as flesh and blood real as anyone else onscreen, she’s also the most sympathetic character with the most to lose. Lawrence continues to dazzle in not only her performances but also her wide range of roles. Her smashing success in blockbusters (The Hunger Games, X-Men: First Class) and small-budget dramas (Winter’s Bone), is a statement as much about her tremendous abilities as an actress, as it is her choice in films. Whatever she’s paying her agent she should consider doubling it.
Considering his success juggling a big cast in 2010’s The Fighter — and that two of his actors won first-time Oscars, Christian Bale and Melissa Leo — David O. Russell is the perfect filmmaker to direct and adapt to screen Matthew Quick’s novel. Russell’s script and direction is as much about the film’s main characters, as it is the importance of the smaller roles, especially Chris Tucker in a welcome return to the screen, as Pat’s friend Danny from the institution who continually finds clever ways to escape.
There really isn’t a flaw to be found in Silver Linings Playbook, save for a rather conventional ending that only seems out of place when compared to the film’s idiosyncratic first half.
Silver Linings Playbook doesn’t settle for the routine or the cliché. It’s a funny drama about imperfect people looking for love. It also happens to be the best romantic comedy in years.
Contact Kirk Baird at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.