Silver Linings Playbook is a 2012 romantic comedy-drama directed by David O’Russell, based on Matthew Quick’s short novel The Silver Linings Playbook. Bradley Cooper stars as Pat Solitano, Jr., a man who has spent eight months in a mental health facility for bi-polar disorder. Pat wants to put his life back together and return to life with his ex-wife Nikki despite the fact that she cheated on him, an incident which triggered his anger to a boiling point and got him the help that he needed. While his parents (played by Robert Di Niro and Jacki Weaver) and his friends try to discourage that self-destructive path, the only person who manages to successfully distract Pat is a young woman named Tiffany Maxwell, played by Jennifer Lawrence. They bond by discussing the side effects of various medicines for their neuroses.
That sentence pretty much sums up everything I love about this movie.
Tiffany is a young widow whose husband was a police officer and has her own share of mental health problems. Tiffany and Patrick have an explosive relationship due to their personalities; they are often combative but they also quickly realize that they understand each other better than most of the people around them, and develop a friendship that turns to romance. Whether they are arguing (which they do a lot), or conspiring on some grand scheme or just sharing their life stories with each other, they do so intensely. Both Lawrence and Cooper are in top form here and have tremendous chemistry; while I had enjoyed both actors in other roles this was the film where I stood up and took notice of their tremendous talent.
Silver Linings Playbook does have a plot, but it’s pretty bare bones and is honestly a bit cliche for romantic comedies. What isn’t cliche are the characters involved; both Tiffany and Pat are damaged emotionally and psychologically. And while they aren’t bad people, they aren’t nice people either; they can both be loud and neurotic and temperamental and just downright vicious to each other and everyone around them. But they are also quick to apologize and to forgive; they feel like real people.
The film does right by people who struggle with mental disorders. David O’Russell was heavily motivated to make the film because of his own son’s battle with bi-polar and OCD, and the fact that this movie isn’t afraid to show how harmful these can be to people. What I truly appreciate is that the film never treats Tiffany and Pat as “special” or try to whitewash their problems; having mental disorders is a hindrance, but in most cases people can still learn to live with them. Pat and Tiffany are difficult to deal with, but they are also characters you are glad to have known by the time the movie ends.
I also appreciate that they aren’t the only people in the movie that are shown to be having trouble keeping their lives together. Patrick’s father is unemployed and makes most of his income by making illegal bets on NFL games, particularly supporting the Philadelphia Eagles. Patrick’s best friend Ronnie (John Ortiz) is struggling with his marriage to an overbearing wife. It’s not a pretty picture but it feels authentic; the movie’s world is messy and chaotic but completely sincere. And that allows it to get away with many of its more sentimental and contrived moments.
I often find romantic comedies to be a bit of a chore to sit through, but this is a case where strong character work and genuinely funny comedy mix with real emotion. The film goes to some very dark places, characters constantly feel like they are walking on a wire and could fall off at any time, and yet somehow they manage to keep each other standing. Strong acting, a great script and extremely memorable characters make this one of my favorite movies of all time.