THE STORY – After losing his job and wife, and spending time in a mental institution, Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper) winds up living with his parents (Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver). He wants to rebuild his life and reunite with his wife, but his parents would be happy if he just shared their obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles. Things get complicated when Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who offers to help him reconnect with his wife, if he will do something very important for her in exchange.
THE CAST – Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker, Anupam Kher, John Ortiz & Julia Stiles
THE TEAM – David O. Russell (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 112 Minutes
By Ema Sasic
Many motifs are explored in David O. Russell’s film, “Silver Linings Playbook,” but its most endearing one is “excelsior.” Meaning “ever upward” in Latin, it’s a motto that’s keeping Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) going and one that makes so many people root for him. After spending eight months in a mental institution because he got into a fight with his wife’s lover and where he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Pat is ready to take all those negative things that happened to him and help them fuel him to be the best version of himself. He believes that is going to lead him back to his estranged wife and get him his old life back. Those around him, however, might not have that same faith. But who doesn’t love to root for the underdog?
“Silver Linings Playbook” was hailed a critical and box-office success – earning eight Academy Award nominations – and a decade later, it still manages to pull you in and have you root for its characters who might not be so different from the people you know. It’s a story that covers a little bit of everything: complicated relationships, a passion for football, mental health struggles, second chances, and romance. It’s a bit wacky at times, but thanks to an excellent cast that keeps the film grounded, it also becomes a heartfelt story; Russell pulls it all off. Rewatching it, though, one can’t help but think of the director’s sexual assault allegations and on-set abuse that have been brought into the spotlight in recent years. For the purpose of this review, the focus will be on the content of the film itself.
We first meet Pat in the mental institution, where he thinks he’s doing just fine and refuses to take medication. After spending eight months there, his mother, Dolores (Jacki Weaver), feels it’s time for him to come home, and though the hospital doesn’t think he’s ready for it, nothing will stop this loving mother from getting her boy back. But there’s mayhem right away, as she almost helps his friend Danny (played by the great Chris Tucker) escape from the hospital, and Pat’s father, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro), has no idea his son is coming home. If you think Pat is frustrating because he doesn’t want to recognize that he has a mental health illness, wait until you meet Pat Sr., a man with a gambling addiction who also seems to have undiagnosed obsessive-compulsive disorder. He has to hold a handkerchief, have the right number of remotes face the television, and have people sit in certain ways while the Philadelphia Eagles play. Pat recognizes and points out this behavior, but Pat Sr. doesn’t want to hear it. Like father, like son, right? De Niro is magnificent in the role, showing off his strengths and talents after years of less-than-stellar projects.
Later, Pat’s parents realize it might have been a mistake to bring him home. He begins to obsess over winning his wife Nikki (Brea Bee) back by reading all the books on her high school English class syllabus. On top of it all, because he doesn’t take his medication, he experiences the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour” – the song that was playing when he caught his wife with her lover – sets him off. One evening when he can’t find his wedding video, he starts destroying the house and yelling so loudly that the entire neighborhood can hear. Cooper is essentially a bull in a china shop during the film’s first half. There’s so much energy and gusto in his performance during these manic episodes, but he still manages to keep the portrayal grounded.
Things start to get interesting when Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a recent widow everyone in town labels as the woman who likes to mess around. She makes that offer to Pat, but being so dedicated to Nikki, he refuses. However, he sees potential in Tiffany since she’s friends with his estranged wife. Tiffany offers to give a letter to Nikki, but in exchange, he has to be her dance partner for a competition. He reluctantly accepts, even though it won’t be a walk in the park. Tiffany is also struggling with her mental health following the death of her husband. Though it’s never revealed what she has had to take medication for, the two find common ground.
There’s no denying that a lot is going on in the movie, to the point where it might seem too discombobulated to work, but Russell manages to keep it all together. At one point, Pat Sr. accepts a bet that would financially ruin him if the Eagles lose and if Pat and Tiffany don’t score at least a five in the dance competition. Tying together a football game and dance competition is odd, but Russell takes his time to build these characters, and by the time the bet is introduced, you’re already hooked on their lives. The script does oversimplify mental illness, though. The first half of the film does show Pat’s struggles and the triggers he faces, but once he eventually starts taking his medication, those problems aren’t brought up again. Psychiatric medications absolutely have their benefits and can significantly improve one’s symptoms, but they don’t cure someone of their mental illness. Pat also mentions time and time again that he stopped taking pills because of the fogginess and side effects he faced, but that’s never acknowledged when he does start retaking them. Not to mention many people use insensitive phrases such as “crazy” or “looney bin” throughout the film.
What really sells “Silver Linings Playbook” are Cooper and Lawrence’s incredible performances and chemistry. They might not have the best first introduction or subsequent conversations – for example, Pat doesn’t have a filter and constantly brings up the fact her husband is dead – but there’s a spark between them, and they know it and play so well into it. Lawrence won the Best Actress Oscar at the 2013 ceremony for the spunkiness, electricity, and soulfulness she put into her role. It’s a shame that Cooper didn’t receive the same awards love since he put so much passion into his performance, but he faced tough competition that year from Daniel Day-Lewis (who won his third Oscar), Denzel Washington, Joaquin Phoenix, and Hugh Jackman.
The film’s climax isn’t the most surprising, but given the formula of the romantic comedy genre and how fun the journey is with this incredible cast, it’s easy to overlook. Russell gave us something special with “Silver Linings Playbook,” and unfortunately, those stories are becoming harder to find these days. But who knows, maybe a little bit of “excelsior” is all we need to bring magical stories such as this to the big screen once again.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Fantastic performances from all cast members. It’s a wacky, heartfelt story that pulls you in and makes you root for everyone.
THE BAD – The portrayal of mental illness is oversimplified. The climax isn’t the most surprising.