Ah the holidays . . . a time when families comes together, talk, and catch up with relatives. And while Silver Linings Playbook isn’t a holiday per se, it’s definitely a film representative of our culture today (at least part of it anyway). It’s got everything you could possibly want from a holiday film: drama, family issues, and love. I mean, what more could you ask for?
In many ways Silver Linings Playbook is sort of a current take on the dysfunctional family movie. Think along the lines of something with the vibe of American Beauty, but updated for 2012. You have Pat who’s just been released from a mental institution, trying to deal with bipolar disorder stemming from a breakdown he suffers when he catches his wife having an affair. Then you also have Tiffany who’s dealing with depression and the death of her husband. Both are supported by their families, but both struggle to deal with how to handle the little things in their everyday lives; some things that us “normal people” would consider second nature. In our world where there’s a medication to solve any of our problems and an abundance of therapies to work through our psychological issues; the story of two slightly broken people developing a relationship based on their common experience with mental instability doesn’t seem that out of place.
Probably the biggest thing the film has going for it is the cast. Everyone in the film is pretty solid and the three top names in the film are all giving Academy Award level performances. Ok, maybe Academy Award level is a bit hyperbolic, but trust me when I say that Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Robert De Niro are all turning in the performance of their career/the last 10 years.
Cooper is probably giving his best performance to date in a role that draws from other characters in his filmography. he utilizes some of his doucheyness from Wedding Crashers, mixed with some of his cool guy persona from The Hangover movies, and adding a bit of torturedness that gives his character Pat believable anger management issues and baggage, but at the same time makes him someone you want to see work through his issues. While Cooper dances the line between angry and emotional pretty well, he’s getting a lot of help from those around him; help that makes his performance that much more believable and buyable.
Tiffany, played by Jennifer Lawrence and becomes Pat’s new love interest, has a few issues of her own. Her hang ups stem from depression from the death of her husband which make her lash out by being with guys who don’t treat her well, thereby reinforcing a downward spiral. In Pat’s first few encounters with Tiffany, Lawrence plays the psycho girlfriend card pretty well and we don’t know if she truly is damaged or just plain crazy. However as the relationship between Tiffany and Pat develops, you begin to see her feelings come through and her outbursts slowly change from “crazy girl” territory to that of someone being upset with a person they genuinely have feelings for.
Rounding out the acting trifecta is Robert De Niro. Now don’t get me wrong, we know he can give a great performance; as of late though it seems like he’s been chewing on scenery and just taking paydays (we’re looking at you New Year’s Eve). But in Silver Linings Playbook, director David O. Russell manages to get a great performance from the two time Oscar winner. De Niro plays Pat Sr, father to Cooper’s character in the film, and a devout Philadelphia Eagles fan. When it comes time for game day, Pat Sr’s neurotic quirks regarding fandom and bonding with his son soon goes beyond mere team support and sheds light on not just Pat Jr’s problems, but the entire family’s as well. De Niro plays the loving father/OCD super fan really well and is actually emoting in some of the better scenes.
Going in I wasn’t too sure how I was going to feel about Pat’s budding relationship with Tiffany (something that the entire film hinges on); one because I’ve never really gotten behind or really rooted for any of the characters Bradley Cooper has played in the past; and two because of the age difference between Cooper and Lawrence (15 years, though in the film he’s playing younger and she’s playing older). However, over the course of the film I was really sold on Pat’s struggle with his bipolar disorder. From the challenges Pat faced and the way he dealt with them, that’s what sold me on their relationship in the end–it was a challenge that he kept working on, that wasn’t easy and tested him along the way, and one that you could get a good sense of from the emotion he was portraying.
Overall, everything about Silver Linings Playbook feels just a little bit awkward and a little bit off, not in a bad way, but in a way that mirrors its main characters. You won’t be blown away by action or special effects, because there are none to be found. What you will find is a great modern day family film, well acted, and with a great mix of comedy and drama that will entertain. And really, isn’t that all we could ever ask from any holiday film?
Silver Linings Playbook is currently playing at Consolidated Kahala 8 and Regal Dole Cannery.
Rating 4/5 stars // R // 2hr 2min