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Quirky but understandable characters in ‘Playbook’


April 30, 2013

“Silver Linings Playbook”

(R, Avail. 4/30)

A few years ago a video from the set of "I Heart Huckabees" found its way onto YouTube. It featured writer-director David O. Russell exploding into rage on actress Lily Tomlin. This was years after an incident on the set of Russell's "Three Kings," in which he and star George Clooney apparently almost broke into an on-set fist fight. Despite Russell's explosive temper and lack of box-office smashes, studios and stars continue to line up to work with him simply because he makes good, intelligent movies. It's a good thing too, because "Silver Linings Playbook" probably would not have worked as well in anyone else's hands. From the film's beginning, it is easy to see how he would have a unique insight into its central character.

Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) is coming home with his mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver, "Animal Kingdom") after eight months in a mental hospital. He is trying his best to maintain his newly found positive outlook on life and the world, in an attempt to put the violent incident that landed him in the hospital behind him and to reunite with his wife Nikki. Due to the restraining orders against him, however, Pat can't go anywhere near Nikki or the Philadelphia high school where he had been a teacher. For now at least he must live with his mother and father, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro), who has recently lost his job and is trying to earn money placing bets on his beloved Eagles.

Pat struggles through each day with his bipolar disorder as he visits his court-mandated therapist but stops taking his medications. It seems that no one truly understands what he is going through until he meets a friend's sister-in-law, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a woman who'd lost both her husband and her job very recently. The friendship they develop is anything but conventional, developing over morning jogs and a plan for Pat to get a letter to Nikki through Tiffany.

Based on the novel by Matthew Quick, "Silver Linings Playbook" is a well-rounded and very enjoyable dramedy. Russell puts his unique touch on it while keeping it accessible to a broader audience that would be frustrated by his earlier "Huckabees" or "Flirting with Disaster." He gives us an excellent and sympathetic character study of Pat as he continually tries to find his "silver lining" in a very difficult situation. Cooper plays the role to perfection, giving a performance I suspect few thought he had in him. We like Pat and can even relate to him on a certain level because we see that, despite what he did and what he's been through over the past year, he is anything but a lunatic. He's just a guy who has some problems, but don't we all? He just happened to go over that edge in one terrible moment. A moment that most of us could understand, no less.

Lawrence is equally impressive as Tiffany. Initially it appears the character could just be sort of an edgy take on the "manic pixie dream girl." You know, the girl in movies who does strange things in the name of being a "free spirit" and who seems to only exist within the film to fix the broken male lead. Thankfully however, thanks to the writing and Lawrence's performance, Tiffany is her own person and her own issues are very real. Her wanting to be close to Pat makes sense for her too. It isn't merely a case of her wanting to help him because the writer wants her to.

I have to mention De Niro's terrific work as well. It's been a long time since we've really seen him put his heart into something and he reminds us that when he cares about what he's doing he is still one of the best in the business. Hopefully this will just be the beginning of a resurgence for him.

Speaking of resurgence, Chris Tucker shows up out of nowhere to give a nice supporting performance.

"Silver Linings Playbook" is a feel-good movie that really earns it. 9/10.


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