The romantic-comedy formula is simple. Insert hot actor, then insert hot actress. Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy gets girl. Have the uptight woman work at a top PR firm! The man swears he’ll never fall in love! Even throw less attractive best friends who will provide comic relief and maybe they’ll fall in love, too! With such a simple equation, Hollywood can reproduce the same repeatedly, making dollar after dollar for the same Katherine Heigl/Kate Hudson tripe. But can the film industry break away from these conventions for an honest, true tale of comical love? David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook is the response we have been waiting for.
After a recent breakdown involving his now ex-wife, Patrick Solitano (Bradley Cooper) has spent eight months in a mental facility and is finally moving home with his family in Philadelphia. His mother, Dolores (Jacki Weaver), tries her best to help her bipolar son, all while dealing with her obsessive-compulsive husband Patrick Sr. (Robert De Niro). While attempting to reunite with his ex-wife, Patrick meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a bombshell widow with no filter and a probable mental disorder. Tiffany promises to help Patrick reunite with his ex-wife as long as he agrees to perform in a dance competition with her on Christmas Day.
What could have been a conventional paint-by-numbers romantic comedy is elevated by the superb cast and the delicate hand of director David O. Russell. Bradley Cooper is the best he has ever been, never over-the-top or unrealistic as the delusional Patrick. Robert De Niro gives one of his finest performances in years and the Australian Jacki Weaver is quite authentic as a Philadelphian mother. However, the true standout is Jennifer Lawrence as loose-cannon Tiffany. The Winter’s Bone and Hunger Games starlet steals every scene she is in, dominating the screen like a hurricane. In any other actress’ hand, the role could have been reduced to a stereotypical pixie-manic dream girl, but Lawrence’s command of the role adds depth and sadness to Tiffany. Proving herself to be possibly the most skilled actress of her generation, Lawrence is a sure-thing come Oscar nomination day.
Russell, straight off his Oscar-nominated The Fighter, proves once again to be a master of storytelling. He approaches the various mental diseases that each character possesses with respect and intimacy, so as to not let us view their psychoses as insignificant or purely comical. Indeed, some meticulous sequences, like when Patrick Sr. performs his “handkerchief” ritual before the Eagles game or when Patrick Jr. breaks down hearing a song that isn’t actually playing, are a bit difficult to watch, but they bring us much closer to the characters. Russell allows the film to rise above its romantic-comedy counterparts by providing some true commentary of human nature and its afflictions.
Based on the eponymous book by Matthew Quick, the script, written by Russell, always manages to stay fresh, sharp and realistic. The turbulent characters speak over each other in rapid-fire, and the conversations are memorable, hysterical and sometimes deeply profound and moving. The film only falls into mediocrity during the final 10 minutes, when Russell chooses to resort to romantic-comedy tropes to resolve his story. The film does such a great job at avoiding the stereotypical twists and turns, so the final moments feel like a bit of a letdown. Nonetheless, the story is definitely what you might classify as “feel-good” and should be a welcome addition to the slate of holiday films.
Though its playful trailers and television spots suggest a flimsy Hollywood rom-com, Silver Linings Playbook is truly a winning tale of the love between two misfits. Hollywood, take note: Romantic comedies can be quite good.