It doesn’t take long while watching “Silver Linings Playbook” to realize you’re watching a special film. Not a flawless film, but one that’s a refreshingly unique tale of making sense of life’s curveballs and recognizing it’s never too late to change your life for the better.
Pat (Bradley Cooper, “The Hangover Part II”) has to learn that lesson the hard way. He’s spent the last eight months institutionalized after catching his wife, Nikki (Bree Bee), in the shower with one of his fellow teachers. Trying to get his life back to normal proves difficult as he’s lost his wife, house, job and has to move back in with his parents, Dolores (Jacki Weaver) and Pat Sr. (a particularly motivated Robert De Niro who warrants Best Supporting Actor consideration).
Pat’s bipolar and hasn’t stuck to his scheduled medicine doses so his parents are never quite sure if he’s going to be depressed or optimistic about his current lot in life, but he’s consistent about reuniting with Nikki as he tells anyone he encounters he’s doing better care of himself and ready to resume his marriage.
Enter Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence, “The Hunger Games”), a young widower dealing with her own mental issues, who finds in Pat a kindred broken spirit. Lawrence, a 2011 Best Actress Oscar nominee for “Winter’s Bone,” delivers another surefire nomination-worthy performance. Whatever emotion Tiffany needs to convey in a given scene — aloofness, breezy, angry or mournful — Lawrence makes it look effortless.
Director/Writer David O. Russell (“The Fighter”) is on his way to becoming a regular name mentioned during award season with another solid effort. He brings you into the movie in a way that you won’t feel like everything important to these characters just occurs within two-hours. There’s a fun subplot where Pat’s pal at the institution, Danny, (a surprisingly restrained Chris Tucker, “Rush Hour 3”), keeps randomly showing up. We don’t get the background. We’re just asked to go along with the bond established before we meet them. Similarly, Russell doesn’t dwell on Pat Sr.’s apparent OCD and gambling addiction. The film’s flow would work better with 20-minutes cut as Russell has a few redundant scenes establishing Pat’s mind set early on. They only feel unnecessary as Tiffany explains her price for helping Pat communicate with Nikki, leading to a thankfully unpredictable plot twist.
Cooper is a revelation. There’s nothing in his resume, which includes enjoyable roles in “Wedding Crashers” and “The A-Team” that would suggest he was capable of such a compelling award-worthy performance. He gives an especially vulnerable performance you wouldn’t expect from an actor typically cast as “the cool guy.” Cooper makes you buy into Pat’s conviction that everything will work out just fine with Nikki even while we’re waiting for him to clue into the fact that she cheated on him and he shouldn’t have to fight to win her back.
There’s a lot to like here and with strong performances all-around, a fresh script with characters that sound and act real. Add this film to your essential Oscar viewing game plan.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10