Beautiful and moving, Silver Linings Playbook boasts powerful performances and a bizarre narrative that makes you laugh your entrails out during the funny moments and reach for the Kleenex during the others. It also makes you wish for every guy with a broken heart to find a Jennifer Lawrence to fix him and dance with.
Director David O Russell combines the zany elements of his Flirting with Disaster and the suburban dramatic themes of his The Fighter to great effect. Bradley Cooper, in an Oscar nominated turn stars as a bipolar man who has thrashed his wife’s lover and has arrived home after a stint at the psychiatric ward. He still believes he can get his estranged wife back, but his family and his therapist believe some pills would be better suited instead.
Typical of O Russell films, the characters surrounding him exhibit eccentric energy as well; his father (De Niro in top form) is a thoroughly superstitious, semi violent football addict who likes his TV remote placed only at a particular angle. His neighbor who is a super-hot but certified lunatic widow (Lawrence) develops an interest in him. In one scene our hero paces his room in the wee hours of the night because he cannot agree with the nihilist overtones of Ernest Hemmingway. Later when the attractive crazy widow from next door throws herself at him he blames her for her poor social skills, following which she literally chases him down the streets in every morning. These are not just eccentricities in the characters, they’re marvelously detailed quirks that manage to be relatable rather than forced thanks to the terrific cast.
O Russell gloriously demonstrates his knack of directing scenes of family conflict, all of which are so superbly staged one begins to wonder if they’re hilarious or heartbreaking. The banter between DeNiro and Cooper is in particular incredibly intense as a hint of mental illness running in the family is superbly established. The loud back and forth between the characters is bipolar as well, constantly veering from laugh out loud to crushing drama. The film somehow manages to walk the tightrope between the themes of mental instability, dysfunctional families, new love and closure while still being an entertaining, crowd pleasing bit of cinema, complete with a dance contest as the finale. The timing is impeccable as there’s a flicker of light whenever things get too dark, and every single bit of humor has a tinge of darkness to it.
O Russell manages to make the dance contest rise above the contrived plot device, making it a metaphor for moving on instead of moping around with a broken heart. Both leads play wounded characters scrabbling their way to wellness, and no one else but Jennifer Lawrence could’ve pulled her role off – she is one of the very few Hollywood actresses who doesn’t confuse vulnerability with weakness. When she’s not smiling, her snarling dialogue delivery is an unremitting Gatling Gun of words. Towards the end of the film Lawrence takes on the football crazy family and delivers a rapid fire monologue that pretty much annihilates everyone else in the room. By the end of the monologue I found myself standing up and clapping, having fallen completely in love with Miss Lawrence. I’d be surprised if you don’t experience something similar.
(First published in MiD Day)