Romantic comedies are often classified in modern day cinema as laughable “chick flicks” with no true thematic meaning and very little emotional authenticity. And for the most part, this popular belief is true: Many romantic comedies are released solely for the purpose of profiting from female audience viewership and have no real artistic motive behind them. The advertising for this fall’s Silver Linings Playbook, thus far, has presented the film in a manner that might have triggered these cliche conventions in some viewers’ minds.
Yet, David O. Russell’s newest narrative can barely even be classified as a romantic comedy. A more proper categorization would be a comedy with heavy dramatic moments mixed in with romantic elements. Russell utilizes the romance of the two central characters not as the primary subject, but rather as a vehicle for allegorical representation.
Based on Matthew Quick’s novel of the same title, Silver Linings Playbook follows the story of Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper), a mentally ill Philadelphian who has reached a low point in his life. Following a violent episode involving his wife and her lover, Pat is sentenced to a state institution and stripped of every happiness he previously had — a wife, a home and a job. The film begins as Pat returns to society and rebuilds relationships with his family, including his mother (Jacki Weaver) and his father (Robert De Niro).
The remaining length of the movie tracks Pat as he attempts to rebuild his life, piece together his marriage and establish a constructive philosophical outlook. Pat’s progress is greatly disrupted, however, when he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), an equally distraught counterpart. The relationship of these two supposedly “ill” individuals becomes the emotional core of Silver Linings Playbook and pays off with surprisingly beneficial results for each character.
Few films succeed on multiple levels like Silver Linings Playbook. Russell’s script works as a drama and comedy, balancing both in a manner that mirrors reality. Humor can be found following even the dreariest of moments, just as one favorable instant can take a turn for the worse in the next. Russell displays this sincerity without interrupting the audience’s emotions mid-tear or mid-laugh. The dialogue remains witty and full of heart, never crossing the unfortunate boundary of mocking mental disturbances.
Often, films centered around protagonists with mental illnesses make use of fictional elements in order to soften the realities of insanity — usually for positive reception from audiences. Such cinematic pieces portray their ill subject with enough of a noticeable defect, but not to the point in which the disease becomes laughable. Russell guides Silver Linings Playbook near the borders of acceptable maniac dramatization, however, and luckily never crosses them. The audience does not laugh at the manifestations of Pat’s illness, but rather at the absurdity of his actions. It’s an extremely difficult line to judge; nevertheless, Russell, thanks to incredible performances from the quartet of lead actors, toes the line with precision.
The role of Pat represents an interesting departure from the norm for Cooper. But despite the new challenge, Cooper masters Russell’s dialogue with comical, unfiltered mannerisms wrapped in a grounded exaggeration of insanity. Cooper never injects Pat with so much craziness that his character comes off as overtly fictional — instead, Cooper’s performance has an understated madness that only reveals itself in heightened bursts of drama. By restraining himself to hyperactivity in climactic scenes, the duplicity of Pat’s character is displayed to its fullest extent. Cooper brings a complex realism to Pat that lends itself to both the comedic and dramatic aspects of the film.
Lawrence’s interpretation of Tiffany perfectly complements Cooper’s Pat; she remains gloomy, compulsive and seductive with a splash of bipolarity. The tragedy Tiffany experienced and the effects it had on her mental stability comes through in Lawrence’s monotone, apathetic voice. Her eyes and facial expressions also wonderfully illustrate a broken heart and a deep longing for companionship, and Lawrence’s chemistry with Cooper is palpable; their banter is often sharply humorous and counteracted by arguments that tug on every emotional thread of the audience’s collective heart. Lawrence’s work in Silver Linings Playbook marks another highlight in a young career already filled with great performances.
Though they only appear in select scenes, De Niro and Weaver truly add a powerful emotional dimension to this film. De Niro, who sadly hasn’t had a memorable role in years, delivers a tremendously honest and true portrayal as Pat Sr. He alludes to seeds of mental illness in his character, and his performance reveals the emotional conflicts of a father unable to aid his son. Weaver, who only has a handful of scripted lines, shows the real care and concern of a mother through her compassionate actions rather than her words. Both parents’ interactions with their son feel completely genuine and provide a glimpse at how disconnected this family is.
The flaws of Silver Linings Playbook lie in the conventions of its genre. The storyline gets a bit convoluted toward the third act, which begins to draw away some sincerity from the plot. But though the conclusion is predictable, it remains emotionally powerful and is beautifully filmed.
Silver Linings Playbook eloquently demonstrates the value of cinema. The narrative remains positively uplifting in a wonderful, triumphant portrait of love, family and happiness.