“This is what I learned at the hospital. You have to do everything you can, you have to work your hardest, and if you do, if you stay positive, you have a shot at a silver lining.”
Silver Linings Playbook, directed by David O. Russell (American Hustle, I Heart Huckabees) and starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, is a surprisingly traditional romantic comedy with very unconventional lead characters. I’ll admit, I’m usually not big on romance movies and sports analogies, so I put this one off for a while before watching it. It definitely transcends any stereotypes or conventions set by any of its trappings, though, and was thoroughly enjoyable for me because of the charming and complex characters.
The plot centers around Pat, a man whose wife left him, as he gets out of a mental institution and seeks to win her back. Though he’s out of the institution, he’s still struggling with unmedicated bipolar disorder and not exactly stable, so he moves back in with his parents, played by Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver. Winning his wife back is challenging because she’s filed a restraining order against him. Through friends, he meets Tiffany, a woman who recently lost her husband, who agrees to help Pat win his wife back in exchange for his help in winning a dance competition.
I do this! Time after time after time! I do all this shit for other people! And then I wake up and I’m empty! I have nothing!
I’ll admit, reading that plot synopsis, it sounds pretty similar to a host of other romantic comedies that have been played out to death. It’s the characters that really make Silver Linings Playbook a great movie. Both of the leads suffer from mental illness and carry more than a fair share of emotional baggage, and their problems are much bigger than the cute little problems most romantic comedy leads have that get resolved neatly in two hours of screen time. The characters, their lives, and their relationships are messy and broken, but that just makes it that much sweeter when they eventually find happiness.
Especially appealing to me was the very realistic portrayal of mental illness in the film. I actually suffer from bipolar disorder and saw a lot of myself in Pat, and I was able to relate to Tiffany and her neuroses as well. The mental illnesses are neither romanticized nor sensationalized—they’re portrayed as awful, but still liveable, and at times hilarious. They don’t define the characters—they’re merely a part of them. In a sea of poor portrayals of mental illness, it was great to see a movie that got it right.
Silver Linings Playbook is a movie with a wide appeal. It’s light enough for most viewers, but there’s surprising depth to the characters and their relationships that will engage avid movie critics as well. It deals with some weighty topics, but it is not a heavy movie—it’s fun and uplifting. I’d recommend it to anyone.
Director: David O. Russell
Genres: romance, comedy