I feel like I waited and waited (all year almost) to find the one film of 2012 that made me say “YES! This is my favorite film of the year!” During the Austin Film Festival this year, circumstances beyond my control kept me from seeing as many films as I would have like, but I did see a few. Silver Lining Playbook opened the festival and it, thus far, is indeed my favorite film of the year. Starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert DeNiro, Silver Lining Playbook, is a delightful blend of drama and poignant humor about family, love and mental illness.
Cooper , in by far his most exceptional and moving performance ever, plays thirty-something-year- old Pat Solitano, an ex-school teacher with bipolar disorder, who having spent eight court-mandated months in a mental institution for beating up his wife’s lover, returns to his parents home to try to piece his life back together. Still under psychiatric care, Pat balances on the edge of sanity, when at a dinner at his best friend’s house, he meets Tiffany (Lawrence), a young woman who, after her police officer husband’s untimely death, teeters, too, on the brink of breaking. Tiffany and Pat, like two damaged birds, cling precariously to one another – both needing something, but completely fearful. At home Pat’s parents – his father Pat Sr. (DeNiro) a book maker, riddle with superstition and mother Doris (Jacki Weaver), a homemaker, try desperately to help, understand and empathize with their son. For Pat Sr. understanding proves most difficult.
Director David O. Russell penned the screenplay based on a novel by Matthew Quick and they created rich, multifaceted characters and a wholly engrossing tale in which these complicated souls interact. Scattered within the drama of dysfunction (in love, life and family) they offer delightful sprinklings of honest, heart-felt humor. By all accounts, two such shattered people have no business being together, but this is what Pat’s best friend, Ronnie’s (John Ortiz) wife, Victoria (Julia Stiles) does. Pat, convinced he can win back his ex, clings to the friendship he fosters (troubled as it is) with Tiffany – one that grows with the challenge of the pair entering a dance contest. Oddly, the relationship works, but not without out stumbles and obstacles.
For both leads, the result is remarkable. Cooper gives a compelling, affecting and charming performance, one that should garner him accolades. Lawrence, too, surprises in this. Instead of the innocent girl of Winter’s Bone, or the determined “hunter” in Hunger Games, we see a darker, far more passionate character – a vulnerable edgy, sarcastic and insecure spirit, whose external shell seems impenetrable, but harbors fine cracks. Together Cooper and Lawrence drive this film and I appreciated every moment of their interactions – joking, comparing medications and sorrows and sparring – fostering a friendship with more verbal than romantic sparks (at first). While some might consider putting such broken people together a mistake, here we see the inspiration of shared dysfunction and talking things out as a means to healing.
DeNiro and Weaver and host of other actors complement the leads. Weaver’s overly solicitous mother figure squeezed my heart with her desires to help her son. DeNiro’s grumpy senior Pat, borders on loony himself with a Philadelphia Eagles obsession and quirky superstitions about remote controls and his team winning. This affords DeNiro one of his best roles in ages. Shea Whigham plays Pat’s successful, more functional brother. Anupam Kher delights as Pat’s adorable, droll psychotherapist and provides some incredibly moving and funny moments in the film. In fact, everyone in Silver Linings is a bit off – making them all the more endearing and relatable– but then in real life, we all are odd.
Ultimately, Pat’s “silver lining” mentality plays out marvelously even with all the bumps, stumbles, pitfalls and hindrances of real life that he faces and to that we can all relate. The film’s satisfying and surprising ending serves as a perfect topping to a delicious cake. Others might not find it perfect, but I do. Russell gives us full, sumptuous individuals and an even more delicious tale.
Final Grade: A+