Courtesy of Weinstein Company
Several scenes in “Silver Linings Playbook,” David O. Russell’s new blend of comedy, drama and romance, start in one place and end in quite another, both literally and figuratively. A casual dinner of Raisin Bran and tea turns into a heated but darkly funny altercation on a city street. A heavily foreshadowed reunion proves to be underwhelming for both characters involved. An opening scene set in a state institution promises a goofy, cliché-ridden comedy mockery of mental illness that never arrives.
But “Silver Linings Playbook” is more than just a slightly off-kilter dramedy or an unconventional romance. This movie has a unique energy derived from Russell’s sensitive, sometimes devastating dialogue and sensational performances by Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert DeNiro. Occasionally, the oscillating tone is more off-putting than intriguing, but the movie elicits an emotional impact by focusing on its interesting relationships.
In a performance that has already attracted deserving Oscar buzz for an actor recently perceived as an acting lightweight, Cooper plays Pat Solitano, an undiagnosed bipolar recently released from an eight-year stint in a mental institution after an incident involving his wife’s infidelity. Upon returning home to live with his mother Delores (Jacki Weaver, “Animal Kingdom”) and father Pat Sr. (DeNiro (“Being Flynn”), wonderful and touching as a man with an unhealthy Philadelphia Eagles obsession), Pat refocuses his energy on attempting to win back his beloved wife Nikki. In doing so, Pat meets a young woman named Tiffany (Lawrence, “The Hunger Games”), with whom he experiences a strange, indescribable, perhaps toxic connection. The two form a reluctant, unconventional partnership.
In generic action thrillers like “Limitless” and “The A-Team,” Cooper’s wispy voice and blue eyes underwhelm. Here, though, the actor excels at the lengthy monologues, the verbal comedy beats and the silent moments of wariness in equal measure, never lapsing into melodrama or caricature. In this case, strong writing brings out the best in an often mediocre actor.
Lawrence may even outshine Cooper, though. She portrays the outwardly strong-willed, inwardly uncertain Tiffany with a deft mixture of shrewdness and vulnerability that is impressive even in the character’s unappealing moments. Tiffany isn’t always an admirable character, but she’s always an interesting one. Lawrence proves herself as a formidable actress with an impressive range.
In the supporting realm, DeNiro brings a wry inevitability to his character, an ambitious father who needs his son as much as his son needs him, and Chris Tucker makes a delightful big-screen comeback as Pat’s institution mate Danny, an unexpectedly delightful source of comedic relief. The talented Weaver, unfortunately, is given little to do.
“Silver Linings Playbook” has a peculiar rhythm that won’t suit everyone. The dialogue is frequently elliptical and impressively subtle, and the tone oscillates unpredictably between dark comedy and genuine emotional pain. Rather than mocking its characters, many of whom are pathetic and blinded by their own neuroses, director Russell’s empathetic script highlights the difficulties associated with attempting to change. As mentioned, Pat’s bouts of unpredictable behavior serve to illuminate his unique character rather than render him a one-dimensional stereotype, and characters like Tiffany and Pat’s father reveal themselves to be more layered than initial impressions might suggest. Nonetheless, the movie is not above resorting to some unsurprising plot points that prove somewhat disappointing in their banality.
“Silver Linings Playbook” is a movie to be enjoyed primarily for its terrific acting. Russell’s writing and directing are sharp but not showy, and the comedy and drama are appealingly combined. The real silver lining, though, is in the performances.