Silver Linings Playbook written and directed by David O. Russel (The Weinstein Company and Mirage Enterprises, R, 122 minutes)

Starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Robert De Niro.

Making Light of the Dark

There’s nothing more difficult than creating comedy out of mental disorders, failed marriages, and gambling. These themes are dark; they force the viewer into introspective spaces. The narrative can’t make light of such scenarios because too many people have dealt with the deep pain associated with these occurrences.

But Silver Linings Playbook gives it a shot, and it is mostly successful.

To Starting Over—or Staying the Same

Silver Linings Playbook follows Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) as he seeks to pick up the pieces of his broken life. Pat has been recently released from a mental institution into the supervision of his parents, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) and Dolores (Jacki Weaver).

A former high school teacher, Pat was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after he nearly beat a man to death upon discovering him in an affair with his wife, Nikki (Brea Bee). Despite Nikki’s restraining order on him, Pat intends to reconcile with her and repair his marriage.

Pat and his father hold many similarities. Pat Sr. is a bookie, addicted to gambling on his beloved Philadelphia Eagles. In fact, the Eagles have barred Pat Sr. from the stadium for engaging in too many fisticuffs. Both Pat Sr.’s borderline OCD and his violent behavior exist in his son.

Although Pat carries the best intentions, his neuroses fulgurate quickly, especially when he hears his wedding song, Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour.” Despite a recent run of unfortunate events, Pat sticks with positivity. His life philosophy is excelsior, a word meaning “ever upward” or an outlook oriented toward the silver linings.

In an attempt to work around the restraining order, Pat cuts a deal with recently befriended and similarly psychotic, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). Through mutual friends, Tiffany has access to Nikki and can slip a letter to Pat’s ex-wife. But in return, Pat agrees to compete with Tiffany in a dance event.

Believing this competition will illustrate his changed ways, Pat devotes countless time to practicing with Tiffany and soon discovers something special underneath her brooding personality.

In Praise of Writing and Acting

Truthfully, Silver Linings Playbook doesn’t reinvent the wheel from a narrative perspective. In structure, the film is a standard romantic comedy. The writing and acting make this movie special and worthy of its acclaim.

For starters, the script by David O. Russell—adapted from a book of the same name—feels realistic. Too often, writers tell an audience instead of show them. Silver Linings Playbook shines when the actors show the story.

For example, the viewer learns of Pat’s marital troubles during a visit to his court-mandated therapist. The therapist, in an attempt to help Pat come to grips with the event, asks Pat to replay that fateful day. Where most scripts would give us a flashback with text describing the event (i.e., 8 months ago), Russell weaves this history into the present.

Likewise, the performances from Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence represent the highest of quality. Both actors make their craziness believable. While I am not an actor, I have seen enough performances over the years to understand the tendency is to overact when representing the mentally unstable.

But these characters seem almost 100% there, they enter most conversations as mental equals to their peers, only revealing oddities every once in a while. The viewer, then, connects with these characters. We could see ourselves in their shoes.

In truth, the attentive writing and endearing acting allows the Silver Linings Playbook to possess comedic qualities. Despite the heavy subject matter and the danger of offending its audience, the viewer roots for these characters, shares their joys and pains, and can find a lighter side to mental health issues, divorce, and gambling addiction. Even though the romantic comedy story structure keeps me from giving this movie the highest accolades, Silver Linings Playbook represent the highest quality its genre offers and is well worth your time.

Verdict: 4 out of 5

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