Silver Linings Playbook (2012) Film Review, a movie directed by David O. Russell and starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker, Anupam Kher, Brea Bee, John Ortiz, and Julia Stiles.
Viewers approaching Silver Linings Playbook expecting a textbook romantic comedy are unlikely to find it in this movie. While the movie did display some of the typical rom-com traits; a burgeoning romance fraught with problems coupled with some light comedic relief, unlike similar film releases, Silver Linings Playbook strayed from these conventions through its treatment of mental health disorder. Bringing a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘crazy in love’, the main character, Patrick “Pat Jr.” Solitano (Bradley Cooper), suffered from undiagnosed bipolar disorder while his love interest, Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence), had troubles of her own.
The audience follow Pat’s journey from his release from a mental institution to his fight to win back the love of his ex-wife Nikki (Brea Bee) and the complications that ensued from his developing relationship with Tiffany. Pat and Tiffany found mutual support through various comical outlets including comparing medication and practicing for a dance competition. For some, the relationship between the two troubled characters and their evolving romance may have been a recipe for a predictable ending.
The viewer can forgive director David O. Russell this illusion as he provided the audience with sufficient twists and turns throughout the movie to give them the complexity they needed. The acting performances were instrumental in this. Both Jennifer Lawrence, heroine of The Hunger Games, and Bradley Cooper, known for his role in The Hangover, were anything but flat in their performances and offered a depth of character that really shifted the movie from the conventional to the exceptional. The main characters were likable as well as complex. Pat’s desire to find the positives in life was endearing while Tiffany’s candor was amusing; she openly stated: “There’s always a part of me that’s sloppy and dirty, and I’m OK with that”. Pat’s propensity to go jogging wearing a garbage bag to increase sweating was just one of the many quirks that made the movie so appealing.
It was easy to become absorbed in the richness of the on-screen characters in Silver Linings Playbook. As the viewer watched them, they realized that all of the characters had their own idiosyncrasies; Pat’s father Patrizio “Pat Sr.” Solitano (Robert De Niro) displayed signs of psychological instability through his compulsive gambling and obsessive superstition while Pat’s best friend, Ronnie (John Ortiz), was insecure and dominated by his overbearing wife Veronica Maxwell (Julia Stiles). Through the psychological peculiarities of his characters, Russell re-established the boundaries of what was considered ‘normal’. The viewer was thrust into a world where mental health was openly and honestly addressed. Russell made it relate-able to the audience even if they had never suffered from a serious mental health disorder firsthand. The shooting of the movie, with its occasional disorientating and intimate camera work, made the viewer feel as if they were looking through the eyes of the characters themselves.
There was definitely an element of the feel-good vibe present in the film the viewer would expect from a movie purported to provide ‘silver linings’. The focus of the film, however, was more towards an ongoing search for the silver linings in life. The movie struck a balance between comedy and psychological drama; it was neither sweet and fluffy, nor bleak and depressing. Russell’s success in providing a sympathetic treatment of mental health alongside humor was an achievement.
Whether the director was accurate in his portrayal of illnesses such as bipolar disorder can only be determined by those who suffer from them. Nevertheless, it was clear that Russell exposed and normalized the film’s illnesses. Russell did not alienate his audience but made them feel united in the fact that yes, everyone has problems. What might have seemed like a downbeat conclusion may be the very thing that provided that elusive ‘silver lining’; the message that ‘don’t worry, everyone is just as screwed up as you’.