This comedy-drama from writer/director David O. Russell (based on a novel by Matthew Quick) is a refreshingly different kind of American romance. It’s the story of a dysfunctional lower-middle class family and two people (Pat and Tiffany) struggling with mental illness who try to help each other overcome their limitations. Pat and Tiffany are unlikely protagonists in a film that avoids cliches and that is high praise indeed.
Pat’s mother has just taken him out of a mental institution after an eight-month stay following his vicious attack against the man he caught with his wife (Nikki). Pat just wants to be reunited with his wife, who has a restraining order against him. Tiffany’s husband died a few months earlier and she blames herself. She’s looking for connection anywhere she can find it. Pat and Tiffany are lonely and afraid, knowing that they suffer from a tendency to behave inappropriately, resulting in alienation. “You have poor social skills,” Pat says to Tiffany shortly after they meet, to which Tiffany responds, “You say more inappropriate things than appropriate things.” Great stuff. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence play Pat and Tiffany. Lawrence can do no wrong and has yet another exceptional performance. Cooper is outclassed but generally does well.
Robert De Niro and Jackie Weaver offer superb support as Pat’s parents. Pat Sr. may not be diagnosed but his own struggle with mental illness is obvious and possibly more debilitating than that of his son. Father and son have much in common and they care for each other but their relationship is one of mutual distrust and frustration. Their relationship is a highlight of the film, though a climactic scene in their living room didn’t really work for me (I was also disappointed with the handling of the major subplot about Pat Sr.’s gambling problems).
Silver Linings Playbook isn’t perfect, but it’s a quirky and honest film that bears little resemblance to what passes for comedy drama in Hollywood these days (yeah, I’m referring to Ted again). A solid ***+ effort. My mug is up.