I never knew mental illness could be a subject for a wonderful and funny romantic comedy. As for Jennifer Lawrence – who needs The Hunger Games? I caught Bradley Cooper along with Ms Lawrence in David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook in Sarasota, Florida, on Black Friday, rather than dealing with the frenzied shoppers just minutes away in the mall otherwise known as Retail Town.
Now before you jump all over me for my opening sentence, let me say that struggling with mental disorders is not my, or anyone else’s idea of a good time. However, Russell has based his screenplay on Matthew Quick’s novel and done exactly that – made a gem of a funny film. The bare bones synopsis tells us that Pat Solitano, a former school teacher has done a stint in a mental hospital ( a plea-bargain deal) after becoming extremely violent when he discovered his wife and another man together in the shower.
Following his release, he lives at home with his parents. He has no where else to go having lost his wife, his home, and his job. He believes he can not only get his life back on track but he can also reconcile with his ex-wife, who not surprisingly has taken out a restraining order against him. While heading in that direction, reconciliation and doing it via exercise, a positive outlook, and without meds – Pat meets Tiffany – a girl, much like himself – meaning she has issues and problems to work out.
What makes this film so exceptional is that fact that despite the film’s following a standard structure: boy meets girl – there are problems – the relationship struggles – all of which lead to a happy ending, the film is filled with surprises, along with unexpected twists and turns, so much so, that the fun comes from not knowing what will come next. Though I’ve read that the film has veered sharply from the source novel – I’ve not read Quick’s book – so I won’t hold that against Mr. Russell.
Instead I’ll offer kudos to Russell for first assembling a great cast, second – getting wonderful performances by the actors and actresses, and third – creating a marvelously entertaining movie.
I don’t have a lot of experience in watching Bradley Cooper in the movies. I’ve only seen him in The Words and Limitless. But there’s no denying his appeal. This time in Playbook, he is the lead character. His character, Pat Solitano, is a guy who is always just seconds away from an emotional explosion. He has an inner regulator that most of the time doesn’t function as it should.
This means that Pat will say things he shouldn’t, it means that Pat doesn’t seem to recognize that each of us understands that others have set up parameters for proper space, distance, and decorum to allow them and us to function successfully in dealing with other people in normal social settings.
As you watch him, his character may start off in a normal situation, but then he will lose it and at that point, you begin to worry that he might lose more than his temper. He becomes furious and intense and as the words pour out of him, you can’t help but admire the transformation, even as it scares you. But it will pass, and soon enough, he’ll look and sound like a normal guy. But one with a less than great recent past.
Jennifer Lawrence plays Tiffany. She’s lost her policeman husband of three years in a horrible traffic accident. His loss of life is what sent her off the cliff and into the abyss of loneliness. She dealt with that by becoming promiscuous. But the thing about how Lawrence portrayed Tiffany was that even when she outwardly appeared calm and rational – there was this intensity about her which would either be visible outwardly or sort of just below the surface ready to explode at any time and for any reason. We saw it, and even when we weren’t thinking she might go off, we had a sensation of ‘having to be quite careful’ around this woman.
We first meet her at a small dinner arranged by Pat’s friend Ronnie (John Ortiz) and his wife Veronica (played marvelously by Julia Stiles who was memorable as Nicky Parsons in all three of the Bourne films). Tiffany is Veronica’s sister in this film. It doesn’t take us too long to discover that Tiffany is very much like Pat, meaning she is a loose cannon. She’s explosive, and she’s intense, and she’s direct. There’s no half-way about her. She doesn’t hold anything back at all.
I’ll give Lawrence credit for giving us a really spectacular performance in this film. I mean her character isn’t the least bit likable. She’s manipulative, and selfish, and beyond that – she too isn’t able to recognize what you should or should not say, or do, in social situations. It seems as if her inner filters are continually in the off position.
Whereas Cooper’s Pat begins as a known quantity – as the film begins he’s being released from a Baltimore mental hospital, so from the jump we know that he would be a nut-job. That is assuming you haven’t read the novel. Tiffany on the other hand is just the sister of Pat’s friend’s wife. We aren’t as ready for her as we were for Pat.
But this isn’t just a two-character film. Robert De Niro is on board as Pat Solitano Sr. He is a bookmaker, a huge fan of the Philadelphia Eagles football team, and not without issues of his own. You’ve heard of OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder)? Well that is a perfect description of Pat Solitano Sr. Here he is a fully realized version of a much older Jack Walsh, a character De Niro played back in 1988 in Midnight Run. You know the kind – brooding, bottled up, yet capable of going off at any time. The one difference – Pat Solitano Sr doesn’t smoke.
Anupam Kher, who I loved in A Wednesday, is on board as Pat’s psychiatrist. Kher is a great actor from India and I was quite surprised that he was cast in this film. Jacki Weaver plays Pat’s Mom and she’s a pleasure to watch. I also liked the role of Randy played by Paul Herman. Herman was Marvin the Accountant in the Entourage series and he played Beansie Gaeta in The Sopranos. Here he is the friend and the guy who is always betting the opposite way that Pat Sr. is betting. And he is a Dallas Cowboy fan.
I thoroughly enjoyed the film, and I liked the way Russell’s script drew me in a little at time. For example – we are about halfway through the film when we hear that Pat’s problem is that he has an undiagnosed bi-polar personality defect. Late in the film we discover that Tiffany knows a little something about sports. De Niro’s Pat Sr has a lot going on within the range of OCD, but it never feels over-the-top or forced.
Simply – with Lawrence’s Tiffany and Cooper’s Pat Solitano we are set up with two disturbed people who feel comfortable with each other, despite their many emotional issues. It doesn’t happen easily, or quickly, but the results are in. Two wrongs do make a right in this film. My rating is a very good four-point two five out of five.
6 thoughts on “Silver Linings Playbook”
As an early believer that Jennifer Lawrence will take home an academy award (sooner rather than later), I appreciate reading that you enjoyed her performance in this review. Although De Niro is less consistently at the top of his game (he’s got a very high standard to meet), I really loved his work in Midnight Run. Apart from these two, I’m not familiar with Cooper or Russel’s work as a director. I also generally avoid rom-com movies, but based on your review, I’ll check this out (lest Lawrence steal her first Oscar while I’m not looking).
David O. Russell directed The Fighter with Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Melissa Leo, and Amy Adams. Both Bale and Leo WON Oscars for the roles in the film.
De Niro has made a series of mediocre films lately – like Nicholas Cage, he works often. But he has redeemed himself with this one.
Actually this is far from a standard rom-com. In fact the romance is in the main -MIA – so go for it.
Glad to see you liked it, JMM! I knew you would.
I liked the film and rated it accordingly – as the audience made their way out. most every one seemed positive and happy to have made the decision to go and see it. Readers check out Didons review of this film here —> click
nice review 🙂 I loved this movie, I think Jennifer is a star and this showed how good Bradley can be!
here’s my review
Loved your review of the movie. Thank you for reading mine! I will proceed to reading some of the others on your blog.