12/6/2012 - A man returns to his family and his troubles after several months in a state mental hospital in Silver Linings Playbook, a surprisingly engaging and well-acted movie.
Pat (Bradley Cooper) has been in a state institution for eight months — we later learn as part of a plea bargain after he beat up the man he found in the shower with his wife. The hospitalization was meant to help him get control of his bipolar disorder, which was diagnosed only after the assault. But when his mother, Dolores (Jacki Weaver), comes to take him out, we can tell he’s probably not ready. Who is more wrong-headed: Pat for thinking he can get his job as a school teacher and his wife back or Dolores for thinking that her son should be at home?
Perhaps she has some practice at dealing with a prickly, not-always-clear-headed man. Her husband (and Pat’s father), Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro), was laid off and now is a bookie who seems to harbor more than just the usual amount of football fan superstitions. (The remote controls need to be just so to help the Eagles do well.)
Pat returns home, reluctantly goes to therapy and starts exercising, but he does not seem OK. When invited to his friend Ronny’s (John Ortiz) house for dinner, he is a jittery mess. But somehow, his jittery mess seems to mesh well with the jittery mess that is Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), Ronny’s wife Veronica’s (Julia Stiles) sister.
Dealing, sort of, with the death of her police officer husband, Tiffany perhaps leans a little too often on men and has her own history with mental health issues. She does have a grounding hobby, though: ballroom dance. She wants to compete in an upcoming ballroom dance event and needs a partner. Meanwhile, Pat wants to get a letter to his wife (who has a restraining order out against Pat but who Veronica still hangs out with). Perhaps, she says, we can help each other.
There’s almost nothing I could tell you about Silver Linings Playbook that, on paper, is going to make this movie sound like something you’d want to see. Mental illness? Family turmoil? Amateur ballroom dance? “Silver Linings Playbook,” whatever that means? Sign me up!, you aren’t shouting. I dragged myself to this movie knowing it was part of my job but honestly wanting nothing to do with it, even after I’d heard the good reviews. Let me demonstrate: Bradley Cooper turns in a solid performance as a man struggling to hold on to his mental stability. Did you just think “gaah, no” when you read that? I would have. But it works; Cooper is good. Despite his career of playing a guy whose stupid face you’d sometimes like to punch, he shows some serious chops here, getting the kind of shaky intensity of his character perfectly.
How about this: Jennifer Lawrence shows herself to be a powerful young actress, one just as good at playing fragile as she’s been at playing strong in movies like Winter’s Bone and The Hunger Games. I know, you’re thinking “nope, not interested in that,” but you are; it’s worth it. She’s proves that she doesn’t need accents or dystopian death matches — she can turn in a good performance in just-plain-folks everyday messed-up person roles.
Silver Linings Playbook is the hole-in-the-wall restaurant that you will never go to by yourself. Someone has to take you, show you what to order, prove to you the food won’t get you sick. So let me be the person reassuring you that the enchilada plate is safe: Silver Linings Playbook is a grown-up movie that is worth your time. It is not going to be for everybody — there are bummer aspects to this story, and if that’s not what you want this isn’t for you. But it is smart, it is emotionally genuine, and it is full of quietly delightful performances that will be talked about as some of the best this year. Look past the grim description and the meaningless title and order up a plate of this David O. Russell special. A-
Rated R for language and some sexual content/nudity. Screenplay by and directed by David O. Russell (from a novel by Matthew Quick), Silver Linings Playbook is two hours and two minutes long and distributed by The Weinstein Company.