Creating the perfect mix of drama, comedy, romance, and powerful acting is often a theatrical recipe that stands just out of reach of most productions. Sometimes the drama and romance is there, but the comedic moments fall flat, or the actors give their all to a script that jumps from place to place, fostering few laughs and even fewer tears. Silver Linings Playbook, an Academy nominated film with an award-winning cast, gives audiences a full helping of laughs, tears, and embraces in amazing, yet equal measure, brought to the table by a stellar group of actors who not only made their characters lovable, but astonishingly believable.
In the film 122-minute film, Pat (Bradley Cooper) has just been checked out of a mental help facility by his mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver), ready, though inadequately prepared, to put his shattered life back together and win back the love of his estranged wife. He begins his quest by moving back into his childhood home with his mother and OCD father, Pat (Robert De Niro), an avid Philadelphia Eagles fan. His journey to mental stability is constantly upended by his bipolar mood swings and anger issues, made stronger by his refusal to take his medication, and his utter refusal to let his old life go. Life becomes even more confusing when he attends a dinner at his friends’ home and meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a widow whose abrasive personality clashes with everyone around her. Though full of cringe-worthy moments, the two become close and begin to help one another come to terms with their lives and start to find joy once again.
The story is an absolutely perfect blend of human emotion, forcing audiences to laugh, cry, cringe, and cry some more without skipping a beat. Watching Pat battle through his anger and obsessive tendencies feels like a punch in the gut—a credit to Bradley Cooper’s acting prowess—while witnessing his joy and spending time with fellow patient and good friend Danny (Chris Tucker) instantly puts a smile on your face. Dolores’ ever-loving way of keeping her family happy and together acts not only as the foundation everyone else to rely on, but also show a woman surrounded by conflict but never succumbing to defeat for herself or those she loves, something many a viewer can relate to. There is not a single wasted moment in the two hour film; each scene abrasively, yet elegantly builds on the previous, creating a narrative that, while venturing into cliché territory from time to time, leaves audiences smiling long after turning off their TVs.
With such a powerful story of loss, pain, and love, the cast needed to give fantastic performances just to keep pace. Luckily, they all went above and beyond, elevating the film to a whole new level. Though obviously known for his comedic style, Bradley flawlessly portrays a man desperate to prove he is not the explosive guy everyone says he is, complete with frightening outbursts and subsequent guilt. Jenner Lawrence was more than deserving of her numerous awards for Best Actress. She didn’t just play her character Tiffany well, she became her. Every movement, every word, every look spoke of a woman whose heart and mind were broken from tragedy, someone who would do any act to get away from the pain. Though they could have easily been lost in the main story, both De Niro and Weaver’s characters left lasting impressions on viewers by the sheer force of their performances. Not a single actor held anything back.
The cinematography of the film further adds to the uncomfortable tension of each scene. Pat’s frantic pacing during his tirade of A Farewell to Arm is captured perfectly in a tight frame, as is his parents’ annoyance at being woken up early in the morning, given even more weight by the somewhat high view of their bed. The soundtrack further strengthens the film with scores from Danny Elfman and The Dave Brubeck Quartet, as well as classics such as Girl From The North Country by Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash. There is not a single piece of the film that didn’t do its part well.
The disc contains several special features that, while very entertaining, don’t add much to the film’s experience, but do give viewers insight into the difficulties with making such a cinematic experience. The 26-minutes of deleted and alternate scenes show numerous pieces that could have easily made it into the movie, and show just how hard director David O. Russell had to work to achieve the film’s razor-edge balance, which is also discussed during the Q&A. The Steadicam featurette is roughly one minute of Bradley Cooper eye candy and on-set antics. Arguably the most fun extra of the disc is the Learn to Dance Like Pat & Tiffany, a 12-minute feature led by Choreography Mandy Moore that teaches viewers notable dance moves from the film.
As Pat can attest, finding perfect balance is terribly difficult, but utterly rewarding, but Silver Linings Playbook does just that. The film’s superb cast, fantastic story, and expert artistic direction fluidly bring together numerous, almost conflicting elements in a way that most films can only dream of, giving audiences a theatrical experience that is sure to be one of the best in recent memory.
Movie: A, Disc: A