‘Silver Linings Playbook’ shows darker side of romantic comedy
Updated: November 21, 2012 11:21AM
‘Silver Linings Playbook’
After delving into hard-hitting drama with “The Fighter,” his 2010 comeback film after the debacle of “I Heart Huckabees,” director David O. Russell has returned to the source of his early love-crazy successes with this heavily medicated screwball romance.
Where 1994’s “Spanking the Monkey” (incest between a college student and his invalid mother) and 1996’s “Flirting with Disaster” (an orphan takes his wife and infant on a road trip to find his birth mother) were driven to varying degrees by overtly comic neurotic impulses, however, “Silver Linings Playbook,” which does have its funny moments, is swept along by darker currents. Its fairly conventional romantic comedy conclusion can only be reached after the principals work their way through considerable emotional pain.
Fortunately, that process is oddly appealing, thanks to some first-rate performances.
We meet Pat (Bradley Cooper, radiating desperation and delusion) as he’s being brought home by his mother (Jacki Weaver of “Animal Kingdom”) from an eight-month stay at a psychiatric institution, where he was incarcerated after a plea-bargain. The former high school teacher has lost everything after catching his wife in the shower with a colleague and beating him half to death. Stevie Wonder’s “Ma Cherie Amour” was playing in the background that day and the song still triggers a violent rage whenever Pat hears it.
In exchange, he’s picked up a couple of new items at the hospital, a diagnosis of bipolarity “with mood swings and crazy thinking brought on by stress” and a relentless devotion to positivity he calls his Silver Linings Playbook. Despite the fact the restraining order that prevents him from seeing or contacting his wife, despite the fact that he’s living in his parents’ attic (Robert DeNiro gives one of his best recent performances as Pat’s obsessive-compulsive gambler father whose life is devoted to the Philadelphia Eagles), Pat believes he can reconcile with his wife and get his old life back.
This is not a rosy-cozy depiction of mental illness. It’s uncomfortable, seeing things from Pat’s perspective and becoming involved in his delusions, which at one point involve him in a late-night fistfight with his father. Even when he makes the acquaintance of dark, glowering Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence in a remarkably mature and layered performance), another social misfit with her own set of psychiatric issues, and they meet cute by discussing their medication history over dinner, their obvious attraction to each other is frequently derailed by Pat’s obsession with his estranged wife and his belief that Tiffany is far more messed up than he is. They are also at odds philosophically, with the emotionally armored Tiffany radiating negativity and making tarnishing pronouncements such as “Humanity is just nasty and there’s no silver lining.”
Fortunately for this particularly volatile couple, “Silver Linings Playbook” is at heart a romantic comedy, operating under the guiding principal that opposites will attract, eventually. Tiffany, an aspiring dancer, eventually makes Pat an offer he can’t refuse. She will deliver a letter from him to his wife, if he will agree to become her partner in an upcoming ballroom-dance competition. That means they spend much of the film’s final act in each other’s arms, even if it’s only in training or the competition, with the extremely reluctant Pat gradually warming to the situation in spite of himself.
That sets the stage for a more-or-less predictable finale in which all the loose ends of the story are tied up and a big romantic ending that should send people home happy after all the angst of the previous two hours.
More than usually, though, the typical romcom conundrum applies here: After the first rush of love settles down, how long will it be before these attractive opposites drive each other truly crazy?