The frustrating thing about Silver Linings Playbook is that I want to recommend it, but I'm not sure I should.
The last 20 minutes of the movie are fun, exciting, romantic, dramatic, and moving. But to get there you need to get through over an hour and a half of some fairly unpleasant stuff.
The movie is about Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), who is being released from psychiatric care and into the care of his parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver) after being sentenced there because of a violent incident involving his wife and another man. Pat is bipolar and he refuses to take his meds because of how they make him feel. As a result, his mood swings pretty violently. This might be done to show us what a damaged and vulnerable spirit he is, but he comes of mostly like a jerk.
This is unfortunate, since his affliction should make us sympathize with his plight. But the script portrays Pat as a self-centered, careless thug and not a lot more. He tries to be one of those people who "tells it like it is." But it feels like it is only a subterfuge to attack people with his words. It is a real challenge to follow Pat's journey when he repels you. He is filled with venom and fortune-cookie wisdom. The title of the movie refers to his attitude of finding the good in the bad.
But when Pat goes to dinner at his best friend's house, he is tricked into a set up with Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a young widow with some serious psychological issues of her own. They bond over their mutual disdain for others and their attraction to each other is immediate. On the first night, she offers him sex, but he refuses to do anything that could jeopardize a reconciliation with his estranged wife, who has a restraining order against him.
The two then begin a very strange friendship/courtship that is at times a relief and a burden to them. One moment they see in the other someone who finally understands them. The next they are screaming at each other over some perceived slight.
The only thing that keeps this movie afloat in the first two-thirds is Jennifer Lawrence. She is stellar as Tiffany. She is at once charismatic and repellent. She is sensual, but not slutty. She has a shell iron and is also a raw nerve all at once. All of her actions and emotions feel real and powerful. The movie drags when she is not it in it and it sails when she is.
There is a sub-plot regarding Pat's father gambling all of his money on football games. Because of the stakes, Pat Sr. becomes very superstitious regarding anything that can help his team win. He looks to Pat Jr. as his good luck charm. This storyline feels mostly like a distraction from the main story of Pat and Tiffany, who has roped him into helping her participate in a ballroom dance competition.
These two plots finally come together in the third act, and it is only then that the movie is firing on all cylinders.
Writer/director David O. Russell has given us a mostly boring story. But he pulls a rabbit out of his hat by making you care about the characters without even realizing it. Suddenly, the storylines converge and become better than the sum of their parts.
Bradley Cooper is fine as Pat. He does what he can with the character, but there is not a lot of growth until the end. But in that short amount of time, he makes Pat's transformation believable. DeNiro plays the tough old man well, but its nothing that we haven't seen out of him already. Jacki Weaver as Pat's mom does do a very nice job as someone who cares for another with strong self-destructive tendencies. She wears her heart on her sleeve, which makes Pat's insensitivity all the worse. Chris Tucker plays a fellow psych ward resident of Pat's, but his role is generally wasted as he has nothing essential to add to the story.
But again, the real treasure to this movie is Lawrence. I would not be surprised if she won an Oscar for her role. I just wish the movie was at the same level as her talent. She is this movie's silver lining.
3 out of 5 stars