As one example of why Silver Linings Playbook is an instant classic, I actually welcomed every appearance of Chris Tucker. David O. Russell, who directs and writes (based on a novel by Matthew Quick), tackles a topic that in lesser hands could be hopelessly maudlin, and turns it into one of the best romantic comedies of the last twenty years. The film is both raucously funny and deeply touching.
Bradley Cooper stars as a young man who is bipolar. He has been sprung from a mental institution after spending eight months there after beating the tar out of his wife’s lover. He moves in with his parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver), determined to win his wife back and find the silver lining.
Along the way he meets the sister of his best friend’s wife (Jennifer Lawrence). She is also a young widow, a litany of mental quirks, though not institutionalized. The two bond over comparing antidepressants. But Lawrence, who has a history of promiscuity, throws herself at Cooper, who only has eyes for his wife (who, unfortunately, has a restraining order against him).
In Silver Linings Playbook, no one is completely normal, as no one is in real life. De Niro’s character is an obsessive Philadelphia Eagles’ fan, who was banned from the stadium for fighting (when he drops Cooper off for a game he tells him, “Don’t drink too much! Don’t hit anybody and you’ll be fine”) and believes in “juju,” such as having the remote controls just so and clutching an Eagles emblazoned handkerchief like Linus with his blanket. Weaver is a classic enabler, and Cooper’s friend Ron (Jon Ortiz) is under the thumb of his status-seeking wife (Julia Stiles, in a brief but lacerating performance). Cooper may need lithium, and Lawrence is a bundle of psychoses, but we can watch and realize we may be only one crisis away from full-blown mania.
The film is joyously humorous, even about its disturbing subject matter. Cooper wakes his parents up in the middle of the night to complain about the ending of A Farewell to Arms, which he has hurled out the window. In Lawrence’s big scene, she explains that she is actually good juju for the Eagles, and De Niro, impressed, concedes that she is right. And then Cooper and Lawrence’s dance is the best of its kind since John Travolta and Uma Thurman took to the floor in Pulp Fiction (a similar dance climax in Little Miss Sunshine did not work nearly as well).
All the actors are terrific, but Oscar nominations should be forthcoming for Cooper, Lawrence, and De Niro. Cooper manages to play a man who you wouldn’t want to be around, but you can’t help but root for. Lawrence also has a tightrope to walk, playing the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (emphasis on Manic), but in a way, Cooper is her Manic Pixie Dream Guy, and the two are perfectly suited for each other. Their scenes jogging together are beautifully written and acted. And De Niro is a guy I think everyone knows–a man who identifies with something as meaningless as a sports team, which substitutes for the inadequacies of his own life. I feel bad for the guy this year, as the Eagles really stink.
And, as I said, Chris Tucker is well used as Cooper’s fellow inmate who has an obsession with his hair.
I didn’t find a false note in the picture, or a moment when it wasn’t totally absorbing. It’s the best film of the year so far.
My grade for Silver Linings Playbook: A.