Everyone has quirks that make him or her an individual. We filter through life, attempting to seamlessly weave our oddities into a “normal” person. As difficult as trying to fit circles into squares, the silver lining in these valiant attempts is that the “normal” person doesn’t exist. That is what writer-director David O. Russell understood when making The Silver Linings Playbook, The film is a fantastic study in how our individual quirks, though varying in degree, have the ability to render all of us completely insane.
The film focuses on disgraced former schoolteacher Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) as he attempts to reinvent himself using life’s silver linings. The film begins when Solitano is released from a mental institution. An homage to One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, Solitano is the hero of the asylum, having convinced his doctors that his bipolar disorder is well-controlled and will not lead to another violent outburst like the one which nearly killed his unfaithful wife’s lover.
A hopeless romantic from the very beginning, Solitano is determined to rekindle his relationship with his disloyal wife. Though Cooper’s intensity is impressive, this plotline becomes secondary as the various other characters weave their quirks into Solitano’s life. Pat Solitano Sr. (Robert De Neiro) is not only an overly zealous Philadelphia Eagles fan, but also a gambling addict and closeted obsessive compulsive. His surreptitiousness hinders his relationship with Pat—whom he believes to be his football good luck charm—much to his dismay as a father.
Pat, who is frustrated by the parallels between his own violent tendencies and his father’s behavior, pushes him away when he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Laurence,) a disturbed young widow and sister-in-law to Pat’s best friend Ronnie (Johnny Ortiz. ) In obvious irony, Ronnie is perhaps the unhappiest character in the film, though he is in a stable marriage with Pat’s ex-wife’s sister Veronica (Julia Stiles), is a new father, has a new home and the all newest gadgets available. Russell seamlessly weaves these characters together to create a misshapen quilt of silver linings, where each character’s quirks hold them together.
The film is obviously based on a novel. The dialogue, setting and subtle incongruities lend itself to pen and paper as opposed to a movie theatre. It needs a novel’s freedom to slowly develop characters. The dialogue between Cooper and Lawrence feels ridiculous when your reality has only been suspended for the film’s 122 minute run time. However, this is not the fault of either actor. In fact, Lawrence is stellar as the blunt, widowed sex-addict who refuses to allow Pat to pretend that his relationship with is ex-wife is salvageable.
In fact, Tiffany becomes Pat’s reason even though she is just insane as he is. The humor and sexual tension between the actors is palpable despite sappy, unrealistic lines such as Pat’s love confession: “The only way to beat my crazy was by doing something even crazier. Thank you. I love you. I knew it from the moment I saw you. I'm sorry it took me so long to catch up. ” The catalyst in the story is not, in fact, Pat’s mental illness, so much as his father’s own problems. Robert De Neiro is stupendous as an aging Eagles fan that refuses to give up on his idea of “normal.”
Solitano Sr. is the antagonist; frequently begging Pat to abandon his silver linings and conform to Solitano Sr’s own demented ideas. The tension between Cooper and De Neiro is amazing. The most realistic aspect of the entire film is when father and son beat the hell out of one another in actualization of their worst fear: they are exactly the same. Cooper’s tears are heartbreaking when he realizes he is hurting his father. The notion he has become a monster connects with audiences as they too acknowledge that sometimes it is those you love the most who expose your worst qualities.
Though the relationship between father and son is incredibly accurate, the subtleness of De Neiro’s gambling addiction is a little farfetched. As a middle class family, there is no way that Solitano Sr’s addiction would not have been addressed financially. There is indication the addition is withstanding, but it is viewed humorlessly instead of as the one quirk that could be the family’s undoing. In fact, when coupled with his OCD it nearly does destroy the family. Solitano Sr’s belief that Pat is the “ju-ju” that keeps the Eagles winning (and his gambling debts from amounting) forces Pat to choose between Tiffany and his father.
Tiffany, in part of the film’s ability to mock itself, has devised a plan to trick Pat into joining a ridiculously unrealistic dance competition with her in return for smuggling a letter to his ex-wife. However, a run in with the law and Solitano Sr’s control issues nearly destroy Pat and Tiffany’s burgeoning relationship. This is the crux of the film; the moment when Pat must reconcile is new relationship with his past. Caught between a rock and a hard place, it is Tiffany who proves to be Pat’s ultimate silver lining.
She not only convinces Solitano Sr. that his addition is foolish, but that if it must be indulged then he cannot keep Pat from making his own choices. Pat, in turn, saves Tiffany from herself in a campy, slightly exaggerated scene that relies on previous symbolism to reintroduce Pat and Tiffany as the quirky couple who just works because they do. The film is absolutely worth all 122 minutes. Its zingers are hilarious. It manages to pull off dark comedy while also addressing mental illness and what it means to be an American family. Its only downfall is perhaps also what makes it so attractive: it is unrealistic.
Bipolar disorder, sex addiction, repressed desires and condescension cannot be resolved with a dance competition. Serious emotional instability cannot be addressed with a blunt ability to speak one’s mind. Addictions are uglier than a few outbursts of violence, and no, a fragmented family cannot be fixed by a winning football game. However, for those Americans who are afraid their own quirks cannot be consoled so easily, the idea that there is a silver lining in everything makes The Silver Linings Playbook a spectacular film that allows you to leave the theatre hopeful.