By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — No need to look for the silver lining in Silver Linings Playbook — there isn’t a cloud in the sky of this wonderfully entertaining quirkfest.
Silver Linings Playbook is an edgy romantic dramedy about emotional trauma and the healing power of love.
Bradley Cooper plays Pat Solitano, a former high school English teacher from suburban Philadelphia with bipolar disorder who has just spent eight months in a Baltimore mental institution, and has moved back in with his parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver).
Looking for the silver lining is his new philosophy, but he continues to attempt to reconcile with his estranged ex-wife, Nikki (Brea Bee), despite her disinterest and his parents’ protestations.
This will not be easy, of course, given that his ex no longer loves him and still has a restraining order, following his assault of the fellow teacher with whom she was having an affair.
But restraint just isn’t in the cards.
Then barely functional Pat meets a kindred spirit, a depressed young widow named Tiffany, played by Jennifer Lawrence, who has been similarly scarred by events in her life and is similarly barely functional.
Whether they know it or not (we do, after all, and that’s what matters), they’re both looking, they’re both longing, they’re both hurting, and they’re both worth watching.
And when he asks her help in contacting the ex-wife he continues to pine for, what does she ask in exchange? That they train for and enter a local dance competition.
That provides the climax for this character-driven piece, one blessed with sterling performances.
Cooper, a handsome movie star trying to show that he’s the real deal as an actor, gets to demonstrate range and depth that his recent movies have not called for — and he’s terrific here, not undermining his character’s psychological problems by sugarcoating them with surface charm in order to endear him to us.
Oscar nominee Lawrence (Winter’s Bone) impresses yet again, continuing to appear skilled and sharp and knowing far beyond her years and experience. And she and Cooper build and deliver their romantic chemistry in an idiosyncratic but absolutely effective and winning way.
And in support, two-time Oscar winner De Niro (for Raging Bull and The Godfather: Part II), playing a bookie and a diehard, combative Philadelphia Eagles fan who has been banned from their games for fighting with other fans, finally returns to form, looking more comfortable, engaged, and inspired than he has in years.
And he’s ably accompanied by Oscar nominee Weaver (Animal Kingdom).
Writer-director David O. Russell (Flirting with Disaster, Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees), coming off his Oscar-nominated direction of The Fighter, has adroitly adapted the 2008 seriocomic novel by Matthew Quick and sprinkled fascinating details and classic one-liners throughout his film like so much confetti on New Year’s Eve.
Silver Linings Playbook is ferociously intimate, with lingering closeups that only a director confident in the abilities of his players would depend on, boasting sparkling dialogue that has you hanging on every word and superb acting that has you scanning every facial expression.
What an exhilarating pleasure.
And what a trifecta: Cooper, Lawrence, and De Niro are real and funny and poignant. When three actors delivering perfectly pitched performances whom you can’t take your eyes off operate in the same frame, what you have is a marvelous concoction that manages to be decidedly offbeat and conventionally crowd-pleasing at the same time.
So we’ll bet on 3½ stars out of 4 for the likably eccentric Silver Linings Playbook, certainly one of the book’s best plays and easily one of the year’s most enjoyable movies.