Review by The Isolated Moviegoer:
Possibly hitting too close to home for many families this holiday season, Silver Linings Playbook provides a truthful yet humorous look at dysfunction, both individual and communal. Led by the motormouth charm of Bradley Cooper’s Pat Solitano as he adjusts to life after a mental institution stint, David O. Russell’s film aims for a crippled but still-beating heart via the funny bone, and mostly succeeds.
Returning to his parents’ Philadelphia home, Pat speaks with a stream-of-consciousness honesty that’s equal parts amusing and concerning. The result of therapy geared to keep him thinking positive, such patter offers an instant character hook, one that Cooper flexes to impressive lengths. Likewise stellar is Robert De Niro as his father, Pat Sr. Not entirely thrilled with his wacko son under his roof, the elder Pat bristles with discomfort on a regular basis while struggling to show that he cares in his own special way. Gluing them together as best she can, Dolores (Jacki Weaver) gives her men’s strained relationship some much-needed levity, though her saccharine sweetness hints at years of suffering their idiosyncrasies.
As these characters converge with themselves, family, and friends, the nuttiness inside the Solitano home produces some of Silver Linings Playbook’s best and most tautly performed moments. Somewhere in between the surreal imagination of I Heart Huckabees and Three Kings and the more accessible but less distinct style of The Fighter, Russell crafts these domestic scenes with plenty of laughs and groans. Among their visitors, a subdued Chris Tucker is especially wonderful as a hospital patient friend of Pat’s from Baltimore who keeps getting out under legal technicalities, only to be dragged right back. Paul Herman is likewise amusing as one of Pat Sr.’s buddies, a Dallas Cowboys fan who clashes with the houseful of Eagles die-hards to great effect.
Outside of the funhouse, the film is slightly less consistent. Delusional in a painfully transparent manner that recalls Charlize Theron’s 30something in Young Adult, Pat is convinced that he and his estranged wife Nikki (Brea Bee) belong together, and despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary (namely a restraining order), he soldiers on. With Nikki unwilling to see him, Pat looks for other paths to her and figures positive word-of-mouth from their friends Ronnie (Joel Ortiz) and Veronica (Julia Stiles), who see Nikki on a regular basis, is his ticket in. An even more enticing way to prove himself worthy presents itself in the form of Veronica’s sister Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), in need of a partner for a dance competition and willing to help his quest in exchange.
Too old to play a 16-year-old in The Hunger Games, Lawrence is again miscast as a woman who’s supposedly had a multi-year marriage cut short by her husband’s untimely death. Despite nearly matching Cooper with her own inappropriate openness, Lawrence’s age is a constant distraction, especially when a good number of her scenes focus on her widow status and the nymphomaniacal actions she undertook during the grieving process. Beyond the casting (Dakota Fanning may as well have been hired), Tiffany’s presence heralds the film’s steady devolution into fairly generic rom-com territory, and the prospect of everything coming to a resolution at a dance competition suggests swelling strings and cries of “Rudy!”
Yet even with Pat’s juvenile mission and a seemingly inevitable shot at new love, it’s a testament to the material and Cooper’s performance that Silver Linings Playbook rarely loses its steam. Russell’s script refuses to fall prey to debilitating conventions and maintains its edge throughout, including his handling of the dance competition, in which Tiffany plays a crucial role.
Regardless of Lawrence’s shortcomings, it’s her addition to the Solitano household’s back-and-forths that elevates the dynamic to its most impressive heights. Inserting herself into a debate over a complicated wager, she ably wields Russell’s pinpoint dialogue, and in a roomful of off-kilter characters establishes herself as perhaps the most magnetic. The subsequent agreement makes the dance competition more interesting that it would have been, granting the finals scenes an unexpected comedic breathlessness. In these scenes and numerous others, Silver Linings Playbook bucks narrative expectations more often than not, and in yielding pleasant surprises amidst rocky circumstances, it flirts with being something truly great.
Rated R for language and some sexual content/nudity.
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