It’s rare to find a mainstream American movie that doesn’t rely on formula to some degree. That’s one reason David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook is so refreshing: we haven’t encountered these characters before, and this is a character-driven piece. They’re unpredictable and idiosyncratic, but recognizably real. Even the neighborhood cop doesn’t talk or behave like a stock movie policeman. What’s more, Russell has cast his film so well, and apparently fostered such a creative atmosphere, that actors we thought we knew deliver eye-opening performances.
I like Bradley Cooper but I never suspected he had what it took to play a man like this, a former teacher with bipolar disorder who’s trying to rebuild his life after an eight-month spell in a mental institution. He is a revelation, bringing to life a difficult character whose intensity is frightening at times. It’s his pursuit of “positivity,” always looking for that silver lining, that gives the film its title. (Russell’s script is based on a novel of the same name by Matthew Quick.)
I’ve been impressed with Jennifer Lawrence before, but she manages to top herself with this performance as a woman, widowed much too young, whose tough outer shell masks a fragile soul. She and Cooper relate to each other for unlikely reasons, but their connection is strong and credible. Her character is smart, funny, seemingly fearless, and ultimately heartbreaking. I don’t know what other 22-year old actress could have pulled this off.
Silver Linings Playbook is a difficult film to capsulize, which to me is a healthy sign of originality. It’s about family and trying to repair broken lives. Just as Russell’s last film, The Fighter, made vivid use of its Massachusetts setting as more than a mere backdrop, this one takes the same colorful approach to Philadelphia.
Many moviegoers are most comfortable with cookie-cutter films that give them what they expect. I didn’t know what to anticipate from Silver Linings Playbook, but I couldn’t have foreseen such an ambitious, emotionally powerful story. I have a feeling it will stay with me for some time to come.