The Poly Spotlight

13 January 2013

Directed by: David O. Russell

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver and Chris Tucker

What It’s About: A fresh-out-of-the-nut-house former high school teacher tries to reconcile his life by moving back to his parent’s house and repairing his shattered marriage, but finds his intentions diluted by an encounter with another woman who has some problems of her own.

Rated R (for language and some sexual content/nudity)

Runtime: 122 minutes

By Aaron Sanders, Diversions Editor

Silver Linings Playbook is not the first film to display mental illness in a semi-comedic light, but it is the best to do so in recent years. And while the film falls dangerously close to becoming cliché, it manages to tell a quirkily inspiring love story.

Silver Linings Playbook is about a bipolar high school teacher Pat (Bradley Cooper) who, after walking in on his wife having an affair with another teacher, suffers from a psychotic episode and is institutionalized for eight months. During his incarceration in a mental ward, he befriends Danny (Chris Tucker), a fellow “crazy person” who appears to be the only one who truly understands him. Here, Pat makes the decision to turn his life around. He commits to physical fitness and reading his Literature teacher wife’s class syllabus in an attempt to get his job back. But most importantly, he decides to live by excelsior — the idea that if one keeps his or her head up and stays positive, he or she has a shot at a silver lining (hence the title). Of course I am paraphrasing, but that is the general gist of it.

We are quickly introduced to Pat’s caring mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver), superstitious Philadelphia Eagle football fanatic father Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro), best friend Ronnie (John Ortiz) and therapist Dr. Cliff Patel (Anupam Kher), all of whom do their best to help Pat get back on his feet. But it is the beautiful and feisty Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) who has the greatest influence on the Hemingway-challenged protagonist.

Like Pat, Tiffany is fragile. After the death of her police officer husband, Tiffany is explosive, spontaneous and seductive; she even claims to have slept with everyone at her job in response to the loss of her husband. Despite a bumpy beginning, Tiffany and Pat eventually join together to compete in a dance competition that not only epitomizes their relationship, but also symbolizes the end of his therapeutic treatment.

While Silver Linings does risk becoming cliché with moments like Pat missing a pivotal rehearsal day at Tiffany’s and Pat violating his probation in a scuffle at an Eagles game, the film takes a different path and allows Pat and Tiffany’s relationship to grow and keeps Pat out of jail.

Of the various cases of mental illness depicted in the film, Pat Sr. suffers from the most dangerous mental condition: obsessive fandom. He constantly insists on spending time with his son by watching Eagles games, but it’s really to satisfy his superstitious obsession with football. Pat Sr.’s mental condition has an even larger impact on his family than his bipolar son’s when he wagers all of his savings on a single football game, putting his home and his family on the line.

In terms of director David O. Russell’s film canon, Silver Linings Playbook ranks at the top behind 2010’s The Fighter, a personal favorite of mine. Russell once again shows his mastery of directing and pulling the best performance from his cast. Bradley Cooper, an actor most people will recognize from The Hangover, gives a mature, sympathetic and at times hilarious portrayal of Pat, a character he would have had difficulty playing without the guidance of such a strong director.

Silver Lining Playbook is a terrific “dramedy “ that is both a thought-provoking film and a satisfying departure from the generic Katherine Heigl-esque chick flick (ahem, The Guilt Trip, ahem).


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