‘Silver Linings Playbook’ movie review: top-tier romantic comedy from David O. Russell

The days of Bringing up Baby and It Happened One Night have been long forgotten; the modern romantic comedy genre does not have the best of reputations. For every half-decent rom-com out there, there are hordes of pandering cookie-cutter tripe. The great ones – Annie Hall, When Harry Met Sally, As Good as it Gets – are so rare they seem to come along about once per decade.

I guess we were due, because director David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook is a great one. This film is genuinely funny and genuinely touching, and moves throughout familiar territory with such skill that we celebrate every derivation from the formula and yet still allow ourselves to get wrapped up in the genre conventions. 

Silver Linings Playbook also found a star in actor Bradley Cooper, who has previously been relegated to middling genre fare and the Hangover films (though I liked his turn in Limitless). He’s wonderfully endearing as Pat Solitano, a man with bi-polar disorder who was hospitalized in a mental health facility following a violent outburst after he found his wife in bed with another man.

Still attached to his wife and assuming they’ll patch things up despite a restraining order, Pat is released into the custody of his doting mother (Jacki Weaver) and football-obsessed father (Robert De Niro) eight months later. Watching Pat’s family gives us great insight into his psyche; his father, clearly, has some similar issues.

Into Pat’s life comes Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence), a similarly damaged soul who became emotionally detached after the death of her husband. Tiffany latches onto Pat, who is only interested in keeping her around because she can help get him in touch with his ex-wife.

While Russell’s previous film – the boxing drama The Fighter – was miles away from this one in terms of tone and content, the two films share a unique sense of community: just The Fighter was indelibly linked with Lowell, Massachusetts, Silver Linings is tied to the city of Philadelphia. 

The link is enhanced not just directly, with scenes involving the Eagles and rowdy fans, but also through the performances (accents – and more importantly, mindsets – are spot-on), set design, and cinematography (by Masanobu Takayanagi); the film quite literally bleeds Philly green. 

Though only 22, Jennifer Lawrence is no stranger to the spotlight; she’s taken on lead roles in blockbuster property (The Hunger Games, X-Men: First Class) and was nominated for an Oscar for her performance in 2009’s Winter’s Bone

She (deservedly) won this year’s Oscar for her performance here, which is mysterious, enchanting, yet familiar – even as she keeps you at arms’ length. Lawrence is a genuine star, in the classic sense: she’d be comfortable sharing the screen with Humphrey Bogart in a 1940s detective film. 

But the entire cast is wonderful. De Niro, especially, manages to get inside the head of someone with gambling addiction with such clarity that it’s a joy to watch: all the superstitions, the blame, the realization that it’s not about the sport, it’s the gambling itself that holds all the attraction. Few films manage to get gambling right (my favorite: Altman’s California Split), but this one – anchored by De Niro’s performance – nails it. 

Similarly, few films seem to do justice to mental disorders. Here’s one where both of our leads and, really, most of the supporting characters seem to be suffering from some kind of mental illness. It’s scary how the script – by Russell, from the novel by Matthew Quick – makes it all seem so natural. We already know these people.

The film also features Chris Tucker in a small role as Danny, a friend of Pat’s from the mental institution. Tucker, the motor-mouthed star of the Rush Hour films, hadn’t appeared in a film since 2007’s Rush Hour 3; he hadn’t appeared in a non-Rush Hour movie since 1997. Disarmingly subdued here, Tucker still demands our attention whenever onscreen. Where has he been? It’s a case of reality informing on a performance, and vice versa.

Silver Linings Playbook was nominated for eight Oscars, including Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Editing, and the four acting categories; it was the first film since Reds in 1981 to score nominations in every “major” category. A joy to watch – and sure to please a wide range of audiences, who might not naturally be attracted to the material – it’s one of the best films of the year.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

2 Responses

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *