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Review: Silver Linings Playbook (2013)


*originally posted 5.10.2013 on my old WP blog*

The latest purchase I made from the big red machine known as Redbox was Silver Linings Playbook, and yes, I know I am late to this one. And I’m not sure why, given I’ve really enjoyed The Fighter and I♥ Huckabees, two of director David O. Russell’s previous films (or maybe it’s just the inclusion of Mark “Everything I Say is a Question” Wahlberg). But instead of Marky Mark, we have the equally talented Bradley Cooper (The Hangover, Limitless) taking the lead with Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games) starring opposite.

Since The Hangover, I’ve always appreciated Bradley Cooper, but he’s had the misfortune of playing the typical bravado-laced pretty boy throughout most of his career. His role as Pat Solitano, Jr., however, allowed him to show us he can be vulnerable, unhinged, volatile, and stubbornly determined despite any form of reason telling him to stop. He has goals to legitimately improve his life after being released from a mental hospital, and will stop at nothing to achieve them. What really rings home about Pat’s struggle is that we’ve all been there: We may have all not been in mental facilities (yet), but our lives have all taken turns for the worse at some point. But it’s those who create their own silver linings playbooks and get right back up that find true success and happiness. In this way, one could argue Pat Solitano, Jr. is the embodiment of the American dream (it’s no coincidence this story takes place in Philadelphia with eagle symbolism scattered throughout). Does he always do the right thing? Of course not. It wouldn’t be an interesting story if he did, and it wouldn’t be accurate either.

Pat eventually meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), his friend/coworker Ronnie’s sister-in-law, at the most awkward dinner party in recent memory (but thanks to their conversation, I now know which depression meds to take and to pitch). She’s edgy, visibly broken, and obviously still attached to her spouse, an obvious perfect fit for Pat. What makes Tiffany so interesting is that she is Pat’s first real challenge outside of his own little bubble, and he hers. In addition to their commonality (his wife Nikki has a restraining order against him, her cop husband was killed an accident), their friendship provides the material for the both of them to grow.

This is seen primarily in the second-half plot device in which Tiffany agrees to give Nikki Pat’s love letter if Pat enters a dance competition with her. Is it typical of the romantic comedy subgenre? Of course, but that doesn’t make it any less necessary and in its own way unique. Pat thinks Tiffany is simply a necessary step toward reconnecting with his wife, and Tiffany thinks Pat, at first anyway, is just one of the many sex-hungry guys she’s encountered since her husband’s death. Thanks to easily the best performance of Lawrence’s career so far, these two feel like one of the most “believable” couples put on screen in a long while, and one we can actually root for and not just  gloss over the way many are handled in most mass-marketed romcoms.

What really made me fall in love (joke unintended) with the film as a whole were pretty much all of the supporting characters. Jacki Weaver plays Dolores, a mother who is unconditionally supportive of her son but not afraid to tell it like it is, even when that means butting heads with Pat, Sr. Robert De Niro has been on an odd streak of supporting roles for the past decade, and honestly this might be my favorite of them. I can’t help but admire his character’s continual tough guy Italian bookie act, even though he’s 65 and feeling the brunt of the recession. That and his OCD-esque fixation with the Philadelphia Eagles, particularly his belief that Pat, Jr. is some kind of good luck charm to help them win, actually serves to bring them closer together, leading to a sincere and touching couple of moments between the two.

Outside of the family, Pat has Ronnie (John Ortiz) and Danny (Chris Tucker), a fellow patient from the mental hospital. These two don’t particularly provide anything thematically deep, rather just fun, hilarious performances and constant reminders that Pat is not alone. This is Tucker’s first on-screen appearance in years, and he doesn’t go absolutely Rush Hour on us, nor does he just phone it in. He gives a genuinely awesome portrayal of a man, like Pat, who needed help, got it, and is picking himself back up.

Perhaps his most important non-familial relationship, however, comes from his psychistrist Dr. Patel (Anupam Kher), who might honestly be both the coolest and the worst psychiatrist I’ve ever seen since Michael Fassbender played Carl Jung. He seems to consistently give Pat good advice but maintains a strong presence in his life outside of the doctor’s office, even going so far as to being involved with bet on Pat winning the dance competition during the film’s third act. This, of course, is forgivable given the ridiculous face paint we see him wearing at the Eagles game. Seriously, Dr. Patel is awesome.

Through this fantastic entry in his filmography, David O. Russell has proven yet again to be one of the most important writer-directors working today. He put his own personal spin on such a tired subgenre much like he did with his Micky Ecklund boxing biopic The Fighter (which yes, I will get around to discussing as well), providing a story and characters that no one can forget. Silver Linings Playbook is seriously one of my favorite new movies, and one I could honestly watch dozens upon dozens of times without getting tired of it. This gets a solid recommendation from me, and will soon be the silver lining of my Blu-ray collection…See what I did there?

Score: 9/10

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