Being emotionally tethered to another human being is the longstanding goal of almost anyone with a pulse. Understandably, when our romantic connection with a perceived soul mate breaks down, complex emotions arise. In some instances, where abandonment infiltrates the mind, we desperately latch onto the past with hope it will resurface in the future unscathed. These passive delusions of grandeur are offset by the more aggressive response to a break-up or infidelity: grotesque anger. The loss of love corrupts a rational person’s mind, leaving them dependent on volatile knee-jerk reactions. The death of love isn’t limited to these two results, but they’re extremely prevalent personal conclusions for failed romantic trysts. Overcoming such issues is tough enough for anyone to handle, but can you imagine how hard it’d be for someone who unwittingly struggles with bi-polar disorder? In David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, we watch Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) grapple with his uncontainable mood swings and the deceased love he so desperately clings to like a child that manhandles its favorite blanket in the dark.
The film begins with a proper introduction to Pat, who finds himself practically incarcerated in a Philadelphia mental health facility. After spending 8 months under the watchful eyes of mental health professionals, by way of the judicial system, Pat finds himself being released over to his mother (Jacki Weaver). Convinced he’s mentally sound and that he can resurrect his marriage, the latter sounds doubtful due to a restraining order, Pat happily moves back into his parents’ house. Surrounded by memories of his marriage, as well as his obsessive compulsive father, Pat Sr. (Robert DeNiro), Pat has fits of rage that suggests his road to recovery is quite long. Fortunately for Pat, he finds peace in the calamitous storm not from professional therapy, but from the gracious presence of Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a woman mentally detached just as much as he is. Unfiltered, sexually adventurous, and coping with her husband’s untimely death, Tiffany latches onto Pat like a leech. Eventually Pat and Tiffany strike up a friendly accord: if Pat helps Tiffany in a ball room dance contest, she will help him get in contact with his estranged wife. Even though their first meetings are highly contentious and combustible, Pat and Tiffany weirdly offer a level of structure for one another. In many ways they make each other appear relatively sane.
Whether it’s their random fits of rage or their uncompromising use of the English language, they undoubtedly share a level of sanity beneath their perceived craziness. The rapport and romantic rebirth between Pat and Tiffany is masterfully orchestrated by Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. Cooper, who has never been this profoundly moving, takes an unpredictable animal and turns him into a fragile, ailing beast. Each emotional outburst feels perfectly measured as Cooper refuses to distance himself from the audience. Rather, in each scene he exposes Pat’s corrupted heart, allowing us full access to a tragic, misinterpreted man. Lawrence is terrific by the same token. She strips away Tiffany’s neuroses and unleashes a fractured woman in need of a non-sexualized support system. For as impressive as Cooper and Lawrence are in crafting characters that are instantaneously relatable, they’re equally impressive in delivering David O. Russell’s biting humor without marginalizing their character’s everlasting problems. O. Russell’s guidance, both behind the camera and in the film’s dried ink, is a significant achievement, which has been duly recognized with an Academy Award nomination.
It’s through O. Russell’s frenetic humor and exploration of a disjointed mind that Silver Linings Playbook circumvents predictability. On some level we know what note the story will end on, but the film’s zaniness convinces us that anything can realistically happen. There’s an unbearable dramatic weight associated with Pat’s explosive tirades alone, where collateral damage is practically guaranteed. If there was but one issue I had with the film, it would be its rushed ending. More specifically, Pat’s transformation feels a little too simple. Perhaps I’m nitpicking, but considering the number of hours that Pat mourns over his stalled love life, as well as his complicated family life, happiness devours him without hesitation. Regardless of my feelings about the film’s ending, Silver Linings Playbook offers a tender, hilarious, and no holds barred look at two people escaping their past and coping with their personal afflictions. Through sharp direction, exact writing, and powerful acting we’re indebted to the messy characters set before us. After all, we share a common mental illness with them: the inescapable need to love and be loved.