The Damaged Jock, and the Batshit Girl Next Door

We’ve all had that moment where we’ve just wanted to beat the shit out of someone in a bathroom. Pat Solatano Jr. (Bradley Cooper) does just that, and it’s actually one of the least crazy things that occur in “Silver Linings Playbook,” David O. Russell’s less dramatic, more comedic and just as successful follow-up to 2010’s “The Fighter.”

“Silver Linings” aptly opens in a psych ward, occupied by the bipolar yet idealistic Pat, who was committed for the aforementioned mauling of his wife’s lover. So now everything is simply dandy: Pat’s wife dumped him, he’s on a mission to get her back and he’s just been sprung from the bin by his doting, sugar plum of a mother (Jackie Weaver).

The return to reality (Philadelphia during football season) is difficult for Pat, and he’s thrust back into the arms of his nutty family, fueled by the man of the house, OCD enthusiast and die-hard Philly Eagles fan Pat Sr. (the always spot-on Robert De Niro). Throw in a goofy, much-too-seldom-seen Chris Tucker as Pat’s best friend, Julia Stiles’ perfectly passive-aggressive housewife Veronica and her stressed out husband (John Ortiz, “Public Enemies”) and the kooky, but wise, therapist Dr. Cliff Patel (Anupam Kher, “Bend It Like Beckham”), and you’ve got enough simmering insanity to send the whole town to the asylum. Then comes along the recently widowed Tiffany, a spitball sans social censors portrayed by a beaming Jennifer Lawrence. Perhaps just crazy enough for Pat, Tiffany might finally be the silver lining he’s been looking for all along.

Cooper and Lawrence’s chemistry is undeniable. There’s a particular scene of dialogue in the town diner — where Pat and Tiffany chat about her past sexcapades in the office — that describes their relationship throughout the movie (fast, biting and honest), automatically accepting the other’s crazy statements and sending another right back. They’re like unfiltered children in the best way, squabbling their way into love and learning to dance together (literally, they’re rehearsing for a ballroom dance competition) as unrestrained and passionately as they can.

The backbone of this storyline revolves around the people in it, and the performances given for them were deftly matched. We have the “Girl on Fire” and Pat’s partner in crime, Jennifer Lawrence (But seriously, will she ever fail?). Lawrence continues to showcase her versatility as Tiffany, whose angry outbursts and wobbly mood swings, though chuckle-inducing, are dripping with truth and a deep desire to be heard and understood.

Then there’s De Niro, who embodies his character with a fresh and boisterous energy surpassing “Fockers.” He seduces us with his pinstriped pajamas and hearty Philly accent, but what’s even clearer than his comedic timing is his ability to convey so much with so little. During a short scene in which De Niro casually asks his son to watch some Eagles football with him, we get to see De Niro at his best, as the desperation in his voice and the vulnerability in his eyes convey all the frustrations and pain of a loving father unable to help his son in a ten second time frame.

Bradley Cooper holds his own as the heartbroken, but never disheartened Pat. His constant suspicion of the world is only countered by his desire to make things right, usually making things worse along the way. Bradley Cooper has come a long way from the improbable and nonsensical “The Hangover,” adding a real sense of loss and raw vulnerability to his repertoire through a subtle approach to his character’s lingering bipolar disorder; Cooper doesn’t let the disorder define Pat. Instead, he allows his surroundings — his family and his town — to build and break him.

Russell presents a little slice of small town America, complete with your grandmother’s furniture and the awkward conversations we never wanted to have. Yes, it can be overly predictable and grossly cliché (oh, time to chase after my beloved in the rain goody), but watching Bradley Cooper run to Jennifer Lawrence is endearing as hell.

From flailing aerobic dance moves around quiet suburbs to revealing glimpses of pain shared through screams in the middle of a late night run, Russell once again captures a snapshot of humanity, continuing his niche of finding the honesty in unhinged characters who flirt with disaster (and each other).

The scariest thing about this film is just how relatable it is. The lack of complex, conspicuous camera angles leaves us with straightforward frames of normalcy, forcing us to see that all their craziness isn’t much unlike our own reckless family issues. Russell forges up a concoction of blithe humor and provoking empathy, making “Silver Linings Playbook” just as bipolar and deranged as its characters… but as Tiffany would say, “We’re fucked up, and it’s okay.” (A-)

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