Movie Reviews by Reel People: 'Silver Linings Playbook'

By Ron and Leigh Martel, Columnists, The Friday Flyer


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In what might better be dubbed “The Odd Couple,” Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence deliver wickedly raw performances with a misery index pegged at 10. If people are like onions, they have layers, but still bring tears to your eyes. Mental illness can be unpleasant, but unlike celebrities, we are responsible for our own behavior.

Based on the Matthew Quick novel, this dark drama is mature entertainment that avoids overused clichés. The characters are unpredictable and terribly flawed, but are fascinating people with value, even if Prince Charming is a schizo and his Princess a wacko. We root for them from afar, but relieved we don’t know many like them.

The careers continue to rise for Cooper and Lawrence as they enjoy their most challenging roles to date. They walk a fine line between “on” the edge, “over” the edge and pure lunacy. Robert De Niro co-stars as a Philadelphia Eagles fanatic, which we admit is redundant. After the Fockers, it’s refreshing to see him actually act again.

So life doesn't always go according to plan. After beating his wife's lover senseless, Pat Solatano (Cooper) is prematurely released from a Baltimore psychiatric facility. He needs a strategy to deal with his mood swings, aberrant behavior and unbridled rage. Pat moves back in with his sweet mother and overbearing father (De Niro). Despite a restraining order from his wife, Pat is determined to remake himself and win her back.

Then along comes Tiffany (Lawrence), a recent widow. She’s nice enough but let’s just say Tiffany has “issues.” However, she might be just quirky enough to put some fun in the dysfunctional. The two are on a collision course with destiny, but not in a good way. They are on a first-name basis with the police and use meds we can’t even pronounce.

Yet, in a peculiar way, it’s possible they could help each other reconnect with a level of normalcy, which at this point is in another time zone. For people so damaged not all problems can be resolved in a two-hour script. But it is critical they discover enough silver linings in their playbook to provide hope for a future. Their redemption is just as critical to friends and family who absorb untold collateral damage during each episode.

After repulsive outbursts against each other, Tiffany convinces Pat to join her in a dance contest. Pat’s estranged wife might be so impressed, he might win her back. The plan is reasonable but their issues, squabbles and bizarre antics are disturbing, yet absorbing. Interestingly, by the end, we’re not so sure just who in the room is sane (if any).

Writer-director David O. Russell (“The Fighter”) makes it difficult to peg this story’s genre. It begins as a serious and disconcerting drama that develops into the type of romantic-comedy that guys can appreciate. Flaws in the storyline are overcome by a flawless ensemble cast hopping aboard the bi-polar express. In some ways, the story's negativity of the story is energized by the continuous chant of “Excelsior” (Latin for ever upward).

Cooper seems eager to shed his “sexiest man alive” label in exchange for recognition as a serious actor. Lawrence, too, easily transforms from her low-key super-woman persona of “Winter’s Bone” and “Hunger Games.” And, De Niro can be De Niro again instead of a caricature of himself. Rounding out the supporting cast are Julia Stiles and Chris Tucker.

“Silver Linings Playbook” is 122 minutes and rated R for language and sexual content. Anne Hathaway and Mark Wahlberg were originally cast but have both done such roles before. So, it was graftifying to see Cooper and Lawrence execute at this level. It’s just possible the Academy may recognize one or both for their stunning performances.

Often difficult to watch, this very adult movie enables the audience to see the world differently. Mental illness is a serious matter that harms so many if left untreated. In this case, a dance routine applies focus, discipline and collaboration as the best medicine for both. The moral of this story is we can wait for the storm to pass or just dance in the rain.

Ron’s Rating: A- Leigh’s Rating: D+