What a surprise! It turns out that Bradley Copper – ruggedly handsome man-meat from such forgettable nonsense as The A-Team, The Hangover and Limitless – can actually act. Perhaps he just wasn’t trying before, or perhaps he needed the superb direction of David O’Russell (credits include 2010’s excellent The Fighter). Whatever the cause, his performance in Silver Linings Playbook is subtle, moving and, in parts, hilarious; as is the film as a whole.
Cooper portrays Pat Solitano, who has spent the last eight months in a mental institution following a court insanity plea. The opening scene sees his mother Delores (Jacki Weaver) picking him up from the hospital against the advice of the doctors; the audience quickly comes to believe that the doctors may have had a point. Pat is convinced that his estranged wife Nikki will return to him (despite almost beating her lover to death after catching her cheating on him), but his plans are scuppered when he meets intriguing, sultry and depressed widow Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). Tiffany promises to help Pat reunite with Nikki, but only if he helps her in return. Pat agrees to partner Tiffany at a dance competition, and along the way the pair realise that they probably won’t find anyone as simultaneously good-looking and socially inept as each other, and so a bond is formed. Aww.
The romantic plot of Silver Linings Playbook is on the whole quite generic, and there will be no prizes for guessing the ending. The charm of this film is the manner in which it presents the tried and tested boy-meets-girl formula. Although the leads are both hideously attractive, their characters are thankfully not from the clichéd, bland Katherine Heigl-esque rom-com mould – both have bleak histories and mental illnesses, not to mention a blunt way with words which gives the film many of its comic moments.
The skillful combination of dark subject matter and laugh out loud humour brings to mind 50/50, last year’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen “cancer comedy”. In the same way that 50/50 portrayed a mature, realistic outlook on cancer, so too does Silver Linings Playbook approach the issue of mental illness in a sympathetic and humanising light. Almost all the characters in the film have their own issues and symptoms, whether diagnosed or not, from Pat’s bipolar disorder to Tiffany’s depression and Pat’s best friend Ronnie’s pent-up stress. The film highlights the importance of finding helpful and positive strategies of dealing with these issues, rather than hiding them away or pretending they don’t exist.
The film is backed by Mirage Enterprises, who are also responsible for Margaret (2011) (reviewed by myself here) and highly-acclaimed The Reader (2008) – their trademark seems to be taking well-known actors from high-budget blockbuster movies and putting them in a far more artsy, indie setting. In this case the risk has paid off, and both Cooper and Lawrence put in great performances, although it might have been nice to see Lawrence smile a little more, if only to prevent her character falling into the “moody and mysterious girl” stereotype. Support from Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver also impress; de Niro portraying Pat’s father Pat Snr., who has his own issues with OCD and a history of violence, brought out by his obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles.
The witty, honest and well-paced script, combined with solid acting and subtle cinematography make this one of my favourite cinema releases of 2012. It is a shame that it only has limited UK screenings, as it has wide-ranging appeal: from those looking for a classic rom-com, to those who appreciate darker humour and mature themes.
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