Having spent eight months in psychiatric care for assaulting his wife’s lover, ex-teacher Pat (Cooper) is released into the care of his parents. Pat still believes his marriage can be saved, which he hopes to achieve with the aid of his equally damaged new friend, Tiffany (Lawrence).
David O. Russell's career has had a ragged trajectory. In the last 18 years, he epitomised edgy indie with his debut Spanking The Monkey, made one of the smartest, slickest Hollywood movies in recent history with 1999’s Three Kings, and then almost blew that cred with 2004’s bizarre, scrappy I ♥ Huckabees. His 2011 Oscar nod for The Fighter suggested he was back on course — but what of his strange black comedy Nailed, about a waitress with a nail lodged in her head, which has been in legal limbo since 2008?
Of all those films, Silver Linings Playbook is most recognisably the work of the man who made The Fighter, although it takes place in a slightly better part of town. Once again, we have a blue-collar underdog story, but this one is harder to get to grips with, since Bradley Cooper’s Pat isn’t quite as easy to root for as Mark Wahlberg’s Micky Ward. He’s sweet, yes, and charmingly optimistic (which gives rise to the film’s never-really-explained title), but he’s also bipolar and brutal (as we see in a flashback to the film’s catalytic moment), and there is also the not-so-small issue of a restraining order.
Cooper works well with what he’s given, but films about mental illness are always a tough call, and his somewhat single-note performance — since Pat is mostly motivated by the need to get back with his largely off-screen wife — doesn’t quite give us what we need to root for him. Jennifer Lawrence, though, is a far surer bet as the promiscuous, pill-popping Tiffany: old beyond her years (the 15-year age gap is barely noticeable), with a strangely sane take on her own bespoke madness. This is a big demonstration of Lawrence’s skillset, as those brought in by her post-Hunger Games fame will certainly see.
Reviews and audience awards from North American festival screenings have given Silver Linings Playbook an early head of awards-season steam, but it remains to be seen how the film plays with the general public, especially in Europe, where the casual references to American football will prove unintentionally bewildering. The mix of comedy and pathos is tonally awkward at times, too, like the odd ‘reveal’ that Pat’s father (a muted, not-too-disastrous performance by Robert De Niro) is OCD. But Lawrence continues to mature and surprise as a leading lady, and if it doesn’t go the full distance at the Oscars, this will definitely be the movie to prove that Winter’s Bone was merely the start of it.
Jennifer Lawrence is the standout in a tonally uneven, eccentric romantic dramedy that fuses The Fisher King with Romy And Michele’s High School Reunion.