Silver Linings Playbook is the type of good, not necessarily great, movie that I’m almost a little bit tired of seeing. Yes, I liked it, but I kept thinking about the talent involved and how much better it probably could have been. With that said, I’m not about to suggest many ways that would have improved it, mostly because I’m not quite sure of them. David O. Russell probably made very close to the best film that he could based on this screenplay. Granted, because he wrote the screenplay, the end result is still his fault.
There are really two parts to the film, which is why it feels very disjointed. It begins with a guy named Pat (Bradley Cooper) being released from a mental hospital, the visit to which was court-appointed. His wife was having an affair, he beat the other man half to death, plead mental illness and wound up in the hospital. He’s going to live with his parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver), as he tries to get his life back in order. The first thing he wants to do is win back the heart of his wife, despite her filing a restraining order against him.
At a welcome back dinner hosted by one of his friends, he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), someone else who has fought with mental illness. Despite some tension, the two seem a good match. The first half of the film deals with their relationship and their battles with mental illness. The subject is treated with much respect, which is always a bonus. This is the sweetest part of the film, and also the most emotionally compelling.
Watching these characters develop and play off one another is fascinating. Seeing De Niro’s character — also more than likely someone afflicted with a mental disorder, but hiding it — want nothing more than to bond with a son he previously barely knew is compelling. Pat and Tiffany begin dancing together, as Tiffany still knows Pat’s wife, and can give her a letter; she wants something in return, though, and needed a dance partner. It’s a very engaging story, the balance between drama and comedy is skewed to the former (and it works that way), and while the tone isn’t necessarily light, this makes the film observant and possibly enlightening.
The second half, however, is much different. It involves a bet — De Niro’s character is a heavy gambler and a bookie — which eventually gets pushed back into an even heavier bet. The film gets funnier, but loses its insight. Admittedly, this part of the film contains the second biggest laugh-out-loud scene of the year (after the Hulk smashing Loki in The Avengers), but the tone and focus of Silver Linings Playbook completely changes here.
It’s no longer a sweet and hard look at mental illness or the way that it affects people; it becomes a movie about a single performance that has to go well despite tough circumstances, one that we’ve seen dozens of times before. The health of the characters is not even brought up during this segment of film. It’s almost a rom-com in its conclusion — one character has to run after another character to confess something. It loses anything special that it had going for it and becomes generic.
That still isn’t the same thing as being bad. Silver Linings Playbook is still a good movie. It has one of the most talented directors — at least, in portraying dysfunctional families — working today in David O. Russell, and it has highly talented actors working in front of the camera, most of whom turn in strong performances here. It’s just that, in the end, we’ve seen it before, and it loses its emotional impact because of that.
Bradley Cooper has always been the type of actors who’s charming and charismatic but not very deep. That changes here. He might finally be able to get more dramatic roles, overcoming whatever awfulness and typecasting with which the Hangover films try to stick him. This is finally the role that he can point to and say “Look! I can totally act well.” On the other side, the only actor who doesn’t seem like he belongs is Chris Tucker, as he’s just as annoying as he always is. Having Cooper in every scene involving Tucker makes Cooper’s performance even more impressive, as it means he had to act against someone who should stick to stand-up.
Jennifer Lawrence continues on the path to being the best actress currently working in Hollywood. She was nominated for an Oscar for Winter’s Bone, and she deserves one here. She proves that not only does she have great range, but she can play different ages. Here, she could easily be the same age as Cooper, despite being around 15 years younger in real life. Rober De Niro, someone who has been mostly coasting for the last few years, is also fantastic.
Silver Linings Playbook was a film that I enjoyed, but it was lacking in its final portion, which takes up the last third of the time for which it plays. It becomes cliché, loses focus, and, as a result, isn’t able to make the emotional impact that it wanted to go for. It has a lot of good performances, and is worth seeing for the first part, but I wasn’t completely sold on the screenplay. If I had to change anything, that would be first, second, and third on my list.