There’s a second step to early stardom that’s hard to muster. You break in with a few movies that wow audiences; for Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, it was The Hangover and Winter’s Bone (and a little thing called The Hunger Games. In an instant, both actors became household names — but could they keep up the critical momentum or were they one-hit wonders? That’s the stage both are in now, starring in projects that prove they can carry their weight in any movie and knock it out of the park each time.
Well, good news for fans of Cooper or Lawrence: They’re the real deal, their Toronto Film Festival premiere Silver Linings Playbook being solid, wildly entertaining of the two performer’s talent.
A character drama with a twisted sense of humor, Silver Linings Playbook follows Pat (Cooper), a recently released psychiatric hospital patient who moves back in with his parents and begins a quest to reclaim his broken marriage. Despite the warnings from doctors Pat’s mom Dolores (Jacki Weaver) and dad Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) take him in, hoping familiar settings and a little Eagles football may be the perfect cure. It isn’t — Pat continuously loses his s**t over his ex-wife Nikki, frantically stressing over her high school English classes reading syllabus (he toss Hemmingway’s A Farewell to Arms straight through a glass window) and breaking down every time he hears their wedding song. There’s no hope for him and Nikki — catching her with another man and beating him to a pulp led to his institutionalizing — but Pat’s focus mind doesn’t let him deviate.
After being invited to a friends house for dinner, Pat meets Tiffany (Lawrence), who sees a friendship in the bipolar patient. After the death of her husband, Tiffany went off the deep edge, engaging anyone and everyone for sex. She’s sees a companion in Pat, and although he’s reluctant, the off-kilter pair can’t fight the magnetic power of their psychological issues. Most of their conversations end in screaming or blunt admissions — but they’re relatable.
Mental illness and human connection may sound like an equation for eye-roll-worthy saccharine, but director David O. Russell mines Cooper and Lawrence’s comedic strengths to turn Silver Linings Playbook into one of the funniest movies of the year. Nothing’s off limits for Russell; one reoccurring joke is that Pat can’t stop bringing up the fact that Tiffany’s husband is dead. As Tiffany puts it to Pat, “You say more inappropriate things than appropriate thing.” To make Pat aware of how his bipolar existence affects the people around him, and to make us, the audience, feel for this heart-wrenching experience, O’Russell shoots and paces Silver Linings Playbook for awkward comedy. He also returns to the always-reliable family dynamic. The Fighter is to Boston as Silver Linings Playbook is to Philadelphia, De Niro perfecting the Eagles-loving everyman with a collective of betting buddies who may just be as delusional as Pat. The legendary actor proved he had comedy chops in Meet the Parents, but here he blends it with gravitas that earned him a legacy in the first place. Rush Hour actor Chris Tucker also pops up as Pat’s good friend from the institution. More restrained than ever, Tucker helps add warmth to the picture. Pat has a support system everywhere he turns. In turn, the film emanates with positive vibes.
Even with a great ensemble, Silver Linings Playbook is Cooper and Lawrence’s show. To the bitter end, Pat and Tiffany never get sappy with one another, always at each other’s throats over the feelings they harbor and the pasts they can’t shake away. Cooper loses himself in the chaotic mind of Pat without ever slipping into a caricature of the mentally ill. He can have stir up laughs with his desperate search for Pat’s missing wedding video and then shock us in the blink of an eye when things turn violent. Impressively, Lawrence’s Tiffany is never written down. She never succumbs to being a comforting presence, always provoking Pat to push himself. She’s a strong woman, but a strong woman juggling her own set of issues. Lawrence conveys all of that without missing a beat. That dynamic should be make Silver Linings Playbook the talk of the town come Oscar time.
[Photo Credit: The Weinstein Company]
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