Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.
Silver Linings Playbook has been sitting on one of my DVD shelves since before I started focusing on Oscar films. Actually, that’s not quite true; it’s actually been sitting on the shelves shared by my daughters. My older daughter was mildly obsessed with this movie for a short time in part because she was also a huge fan of Hunger Games, and thus loved everything Jennifer Lawrence did. However, when I decided to finally watch it, it was nowhere to be found. Streaming, here we come.
As one of the last people in the country to see this, I’m likely covering known territory when I talk about the story, but that’s what I do here. Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) is being released from an 8-month stint in a mental institution caused by his complete breakdown when he found his wife Nikki (Brea Bee) with another man in the shower. Pat has used his time in the institution to get back in physical shape and to try to work on his anger issues, some of which he seems to have inherited from his father, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro).
Now out, Pat’s goal is to reconnect with his wife and try to put his life back together. The fact that there is a restraining order against him preventing him from coming closer than 500 feet makes this difficult, but he is determined to rebuild the life that he had, even if that’s really impossible. Shortly after his release, he finds his friend Ronnie (John Ortiz), who invites him to dinner. At that dinner, Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), the sister of Ronnie’s wife. Tiffany is a young widow who went through her own serious breakdown when her husband died. The two compare different medications before Tiffany decides she’s had enough of her sister and leaves with Pat following.
The plot turns on three main ideas. First and second, Pat desperately wants to get back with Nikki and sees Tiffany as a conduit through Ronnie’s wife Veronica (Julia Stiles), who is Tiffany’s sister. All he wants is for her to deliver a letter to Nikki. But Tiffany won’t do this without a little quid pro quo. What she wants is to participate in an upcoming dance competition. She’ll deliver Pat’s letter if he’ll agree to be her partner in the dance competition.
Third, Pat Sr. has lost his job and is currently making his living as a bookie and is saving up for a restaurant. He is convinced that his son is a good luck charm for a variety of Philadelphia teams, particularly the Eagles. Pat Jr.’s time with Tiffany is taking away from his time with his father and specifically during Eagles games. Everything falls apart when Pat Sr. bets everything on an Eagles game that he sends his son to. Pat Jr., trying to defend his Indian therapist Dr. Patel (Anupam Kher) from racist Eagles fans, is kicked out and the Eagles lose. However, Tiffany comes to the rescue, informing him that all of the Philadelphia teams do better when she has been with Pat. And so a new bet is born, a double-or-nothing parlay in which the Eagles have to beat the Cowboys and Pat and Tiffany must score a particular number at their dance competition. And, of course, there are additional complications.
Silver Linings Playbook works by an interesting formula, and it’s one that took me some time to understand. For the first half of the movie or so, I really disliked all of the characters except Pat’s mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver). These are people with real mental illnesses. This is not kooky, fun “movie” crazy, but people with real emotional disturbances going through real things. They are violent and out of control and unstable. That’s a hard sell for me. And yet, just as I was starting to adjust or perhaps because I’d adjusted, just before the midpoint and just after, there are a couple of moments where Pat, Tiffany, and Pat Sr. especially become real people. They are more than their various mental illnesses, but actual people simply trying to get along in the world and figure things out as best they can. Suddenly, I wanted them all to be okay, or at least just to have someone tell them that everything was going to be okay.
Silver Linings Playbook trades on its performances and is one of those rare films nominated in all four acting categories—Actor (Bradley Cooper), Actress (Jennifer Lawrence), Supporting Actor (Robert De Niro), and Supporting Actress (Jacki Weaver). Anupam Kher is in many ways the most likable character in the film for much of the running time. There’s even a surprisingly good performance from Chris Tucker as Danny, one of Pat’s fellow inmates at the institution. It’s one of the first times I’ve seen a movie featuring Tucker where I didn’t immediately want to slap him across the face to get him to shut up. It’s nice seeing De Niro doing something that doesn’t feel like its tarnishing his image again.
Ultimately, I liked Silver Linings Playbook in most respects. I appreciate that it feels like a much more realistic perspective on living with mental illness. It punts the ending a little bit by giving us perhaps more happy-happy than it earns, but I can kind of forgive that. In its own way, it does earn the ending by giving us characters we come to care about. We want the happy ending, and so it works.
Why to watch Silver Linings Playbook: It puts the fun in dysfunctional.
Why not to watch: The first hour might be a little rough.