“Silver Linings Playbook” is a darkly humorous story of family, mental illness and love that will leave you with lots to think about before you head home for the holidays. Starring Bradley Cooper and “The Hunger Games” star Jennifer Lawrence, the movie is sharp, engaging and surprisingly relatable. Director David O. Russell (“The Fighter”) crafts a compelling dynamic between several strong actors, and the end result is an unorthodox take on love and personal struggle.
The premise of “Silver Linings” centers around Pat (Bradley Cooper) as he transitions to outpatient life after spending eight months in a mental institution following a violent psychotic break, ominously referred to as “the episode” throughout the film. Pat, who has a longstanding undiagnosed and untreated case of bipolar disorder with delusions, is driven into a ferocious fight with his wife’s lover after he discovers the affair by finding them in the act. The film illustrates and introduces this saga with grace but also with painful honesty, immediately and effectively forcing the audience to feel for Pat. One can’t help but sympathize at this point, and it’s hard to wonder if even the most balanced, mentally healthy individual wouldn’t snap in this scenario.
These factors all culminate in the hopeful but precarious setting of the movie: Pat has moved back home and is trying his best to assimilate back into daily life. His primary focus is getting Nikki, his wife, back by proving his stability and current state of total health. Pat has daily therapy sessions with Dr. Patel, played by the compelling and often comedic Anupam Kher (who you’d likely recognize as the dad from “Bend it Like Beckham.”)
In his quest to prove his sanity, his progress is complicated by the also “crazy” Tiffany, played by a beautiful but enigmatic Jennifer Lawrence. Tiffany’s badass-looking boots and impenetrable vibe will briefly leave you wondering if she might be Katniss Everdeen’s cooler, older sister. Tiffany appears in a supportive friend role for Pat, but, unsurprisingly, there are undeniable sparks between them that linger throughout the development of their relationship.
Both Cooper and Lawrence are highly competent in their leading roles as similarly troubled souls, and Cooper in particular shows his acting chops in his portrayal of a truly troubled and struggling individual. It’s also satisfying to see Jennifer Lawrence come into her own as an actress who should be taken seriously, though it is a touch hard to buy that she’s old enough to have been married and widowed. She’s barely 22 in real life, and we at Intermission would bet money she’d still be getting carded if she weren’t a hot celeb.
Several other standout actors help make this unfamiliar story translate well into a movie. Robert DeNiro is excellent as Pat’s concerned football-and-betting-obsessed father, and it’s a pleasant change to see DeNiro as a softer character than you may be used to. DeNiro’s character is easily the most interesting element of Pat’s home dynamic, and is the source of many a confrontation throughout the film. His mother (Jacki Weaver) and brother (Shea Whigham) on the other hand, are much less impressive and at times come across as shallow and repetitive.
In all, “Silver Linings Playbook” is an interesting commentary on the meaning of ‘normal,’ the value of sanity and the fear of craziness. It’s worth seeing for the strong performances of several actors, the uncommon story and, particularly at this time of the year, the brutally honest portrait of family relationships.