If you’re reading this and you’ve ever managed to persuade me to watch a romantic comedy with you then it’s safe to say I was head over heels in love and you took advantage of my temporary weakened state. I despise the genre almost as much as I despise soap operas, reality TV, Lonsdale vests and Mick Hucknall. So, on the surface, I’m not the kind of guy to really pitch ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ to am I? Well, when the pitch comes direct from Bret Easton-Ellis who has a body of work that’s filled with cutting intelligence and borderline depravity that I so admire, I thought to myself this movie must be worth a look.
Bradley Cooper plays Pat Soltano Jr, a married man with an undiagnosed history of mental illness tipped over the edge by a singular event involving his now estranged wife. Pat is detained for 8 months is a hospital for the mentally ill and is released upon the condition that he attends regular counselling and lives with his parents and of course, obeys the restraining order his wife has placed upon him since the incident that lead to his incarceration.
Pat struggles to find balance in his life juggling his newly learned positive ‘Silver Lining’ outlook with the pressure of pleasing his parents, dealing with his condition and reconnecting with old friends, along with of course the constant stigma attached to anyone who has been diagnosed with a mental illness. Pat finds the strength to continue this constant balancing act with his focus on the only thing in the world he wants, to prove to his wife that he is now mentally capable of resuming their marriage and to live happily ever after with her. That is until he is challenged in the safety of his values by a volatile young lady called Tiffany (played by the amazing Jennifer Lawrence). What begins is a burgeoning friendship built on a battleground of mental volatility, emotional fracture and a shared honesty.
A film of this type hangs together on its performances, both leading and supporting. It’s safe to say that both leads excel themselves and are happy to go places with their characters that many would not. The unpredictability of Pat’s condition could either make him an unlikeable character or push the characterisation into a ‘Me, Myself and Irene’ comedic territory where the mental illness is played for slapstick or cringeworthy laughs. The combination of Cooper’s performance and the heartfelt adapted screenplay ensure this never happens.
Jennifer Lawrence is simply a phenomenon. In the space of seconds she convincingly gives us insecurity, promiscuity, innocence, surfaced aggression, sadness, hope, focus, quiet dignity and manages to meld all this into an absolutely loveable character who in some ways is both the knight in shining armour and the damsel in distress. While structurally ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ is most definitely a romantic comedy, it shows the heart and intelligence to bring humour through fully rounded characters and their interactions yet never resorts to cheap hurtful humour. Great supporting turns by Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver as Pat’s parents among others (including a more restrained than usual Chris Tucker) definitely cement the film’s high quality.
Director David O’Russell does not shy away from the reality of his characters and it makes his film all the better for it. ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ is a rare triumph for me in that it joins one of only three ‘romantic comedies’ that I not only tolerate but actually ending up falling for in a big way. I admire its honesty. It’s not an easy thing to put yourself into a situation where as a fractured human being you’re making yourself as vulnerable as you’ll ever be.
The comedy is sharp, the drama is engrossing and the performances are uniformly excellent and heartfelt. ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ deserves all the plaudits and more for not only being an excellently crafted film but for also giving us two wonderful characters whose mental illnesses are a part of their existence and not their whole existence, as much as society would be more comfortable with the simplistic labels that people are happy to throw around. It’s our imperfections and frailties that make us who we are. It’s reassuring to see a mainstream film that embraces that. Highly recommended.