Once in a great while a film comes along in which the acting of the ensemble cast (a cast where the performers are afforded fairly equal time on the screen) is so consistently brilliant from every single member of it that sufficient superlatives do not exist to describe it. “Silver Linings Playbook” is such a film.
Just how good is the acting in this movie? Well, all four of its stars — Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert Di Niro, and Jacki Weaver – have received Academy Award nominations in the categories of best actor and actress (Cooper and Lawrence) and best supporting actor and actress (Di Niro and Weaver). And the last time that happened was all the way back in 1981, when “Reds” achieved the identical honor.
“Silver Linings Playbook” is based upon Matthew Quick’s 2008 novel of the same name, and it begins with the release of Pat Solitano (Cooper) from a Baltimore mental hospital where he has spent the last eight months undergoing treatment for bipolar disorder. His mother, Dolores (Weaver) takes him home to Philadelphia, and he finds out that his father, Pat Sr. (Di Niro) is trying to compensate for his unemployment by working as a bookie.
Throughout the early scenes, Pat constantly expresses his intention to get back together with his wife, Nikki (Brea Bee), but his parents tell him to forget it because she is no longer around. However, it’s not until Pat pays a visit to his therapist (Anupam Kher) that we learn what drove them apart. Apparently both Pat and Nikki taught at the same high school, and one day Pat arrived home early only to find his wife in the shower with one of their colleagues, and they weren’t washing each other’s backs. Naturally Pat didn’t appreciate that they were sharing their personal hygiene, and he lost it. After almost killing the guy, Pat was sent off for treatment.
During his eight months at the hospital, Pat developed an obsession for physical fitness so that he could lose some weight to please Nikki, who used to nag him about his being fat. After he arrives home, he makes sure to go out for a run every day, and during one of these he sees a friend named Ronnie (John Oritz), who invites him to dinner.
Now it just so happens that Ronnie’s wife, Veronica (Julia Styles), has a sister named Tiffany (Lawrence), who also has been invited to dinner. Pat and Tiffany have something in common because they both are attempting to cope with problems and make new lives for themselves. Tiffany’s husband died, she lost her job, and she has had a serious problem with sexual addiction.
It doesn’t take a soothsayer to predict that Pat and Tiffany will become friends of sorts. In fact, when Pat finds out Tiffany knows Nikki, he enlists her help in trying to communicate with her. Tiffany agrees, but she asks for something in return, and Pat isn’t so sure he can do what she wants.
“Silver Linings Playbook” is at once moving, funny, dramatic, and heartbreaking. All of the major characters are dealing with their individual eccentricities, and thus it takes the viewer on an emotional rollercoaster ride. It easy to see why Pat developed some problems because his father exhibits the classic signs of OCD from the way he lines up his remote controls to his odd obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles.
It is not hyperbolic to say that everyone in this remarkable film delivers a flawless performance. You become so drawn into their lives that you forget you are watching a movie and become completely absorbed in them. In the film’s production notes director David O. Russell (“The Fighter”) explained what attracted him to the story.
“Although ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ was fiction, it was likewise filled with very intense authentic people in a very specific local world the author knew well: emotional homes, people under great pressure, surprising drama, and unintended comedy. I am very drawn to these worlds. I find them fascinating. A certain place, a certain time, certain foods, certain rituals, unlike anything else, yet all the emotions and yearnings for love and respect and livelihood are deeply universal. At the end of the day I love to peer into the lives of these people trying to overcome what they face, often themselves, in their own particular house on their own particular block, in ways that are heartbreaking and unbearable before somehow they pull through. For now.”
Russell also said the chemistry between Cooper and Lawrence was “palpably combustible,” and he is spot on with his assessment. The two of them are wonderful together because they play off one another so naturally, and early in their relationship they engage in some marvelous heated and sarcastic dialogue. Here are several examples.
Pat: You have poor social skills. You have a problem.
Tiffany: I have a problem? You say more inappropriate things than appropriate things.
Pat: What the fuck? I’m married!
Tiffany: So am I!
Pat: What the fuck are you doing? Your husband’s dead!
Tiffany: Where’s your wife?
Pat: You’re crazy!
Tiffany: I’m not the one who just got out of that hospital in Baltimore.
Pat: And I’m not the big slut!… I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry.
Tiffany: I was a big slut, but I’m not any more. There’s always going to be a part of me that’s sloppy and dirty, but I like that. With all the other parts of myself. Can you say the same about yourself, fucker? Can you forgive? Are you any good at that?
Pat: How old are you?
Tiffany: Old enough to have a marriage end and not wind up in a mental hospital.
Both of them have a great sense of timing for delivering their lines, and they also have the ability to convey their thoughts, emotions, and feelings without saying a word. Of course Cooper, Di Niro, and Weaver are veteran performers, and you would expect them to be outstanding in any part.
But Lawrence is another story. She began her career when she was just 14 and earned her first Academy Award nomination for her work in “Winter’s Bone” when she was 19. For someone so young, she has an amazing range, and in an online interview producer Donna Gigliotti said of her, “It’s chemical with this girl. That’s all I can say. At 21 years old she is absolutely the most staggering talent that I have seen come along in Hollywood in a very long time.”
There is no question Lawrence possesses poise and maturity beyond her years, and in an online interview, she offered some interesting insight into her character.
“Tiffany Maxwell is a very tough, no BS kind of girl who is recovering from being a sex addict, and now she just kind of takes her aggression out by being mean to pretty much everyone. I love Tiffany because she’s different and she is who she is and she makes no apology for it. She really knows how to be alive. She knows how to live, and she knows she’s not perfect and she doesn’t want to be. She doesn’t really want anybody to think she’s better than she is. She’s just kind of herself and is totally OK with that.”
The characters in “Silver Linings Playbook” (Naturally it gets an unqualified 10.) will get into your head and stay there long after you have left the theater. During this picture’s early scenes, you will become so absorbed in the lives of Pat and Tiffany and their families that they will cease being fictional creations and become real people whom you care about. You will share in their heartbreak and joy, and you will want them to solve their problems and find some measure of happiness life. After all, don’t we all want to find that magical silver lining?