In yesterday’s review, I noted that I only saw Red Dawn on Friday night because I was waiting around for the second part of a double feature: Silver Linings Playbook. So it’s only appropriate that this blog reviews the double feature on back-to-back days, no? (The answer is, in fact, no, because nobody actually cares about this stuff, but let’s move on.) Red Dawn was the worst movie I’d seen in theatres since Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (which is probably one of the five worst films I’ve seen in my lifetime). By the end of the night, it didn’t matter. Red Dawn could have been Room-level bad, and it still wouldn’t have been the mean talking point of the double feature, because Silver Linings Playbook is a bona fide masterpiece. It’s the best film I’ve seen in a movie theatre since The Social Network, and it should stand tall as a front-runner in this year’s Oscars race.
If you’re reading the blog, you’re likely drawn in now to the idea of Silver Linings Playbook. That’s not meant to sound egotistical – that’s to practically state that you’ve sought out this blog post, likely because you enjoy reading the site somewhat, and you have at least a modicum of respect for my opinions. So the next thing I should do is tell you about Silver Linings Playbook, to continue to try and draw you in, and well…that’s a bit tricky. I’ve raved about the movie to several people, and every time I’m asked what it’s about, it’s not easy to nail a brief synopsis down.
Silver Linings Playbook is hilarious, but it’s not really a comedy. It’s dramatic, but it’s not really a drama. It’s a blend of the two – a “dramedy”, if you will – but it’s so much more than that. Silver Linings Playbook deals with mental illness and love and death and family and desperation and superstition and the Philadelphia Eagles and therapy and marriage – and more. It juggles monologues and witty dialogue and sarcasm and anger and joy with ease. It has so many tonal shifts and disparate moments that it should slip up somewhere along the line. It doesn’t. Silver Linings Playbook shoots for the moon and sticks the landing each and every time.
So, what’s it all about? (Alfie…) Silver Linings Playbook deals with Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), a teacher who’s placed in a mental hospital after a violent incident. At the start of the film, Pat’s whisked away – ready or not – by his mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver), who brings him back home, much to the surprise of Pat, Sr. (Robert De Niro). Out of the facility and with a new outlook on life, Pat’s focused on one thing and one thing only – killin’ Nazis. No, wait, I mean…he’s focused on getting his wife, Nikki, back into his life. Along the way, Pat develops an unusual friendship with a young widow, Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence), and their relationship forms a central point of the film. Colorful supporting characters abound, from Pat’s therapist (Anupam Kher), a half-friendly couple (John Ortiz and Julia Stiles) and Danny, Pat’s friend from the mental hospital (Chris Tucker…no, seriously, Chris Tucker!).
From the film’s trailers and TV spots, you might think Silver Linings Playbook is basically a love story between Pat and Tiffany, two messed-up people who complement themselves with their lovely messiness. It’s not. Pat’s trying to get his life back together, but he’s not quite sure where to start, and a burning desire to reconcile with Nikki drives his every move. It’s part of what leads him to Tiffany, and it drives him apart from a well-meaning but severely-flawed father. That’s the core of Silver Linings Playbook, and most of the film’s actions are either a cause or effect from Pat’s hope for a reconcilation with Nikki.
So much more happens in Silver Linings Playbook, though, with a cast of terrifically defined characters. De Niro’s Pat, Sr. is one of the strangest in ways, but the legendary actor crushes every second of his screen time. It’s the most engaging and thrilling performance from De Niro in eons, and it’ll be a damn shame if he’s not a Supporting Actor nominee on Oscar night. Chris Tucker also surprises in an understated yet hilarious role – his first film in five years and first non-Rush Hour movie since 1997, believe it or not. His running subplot, which I won’t spoil, provides a good deal of the film’s laughs.
But Silver Linings Playbook belongs to its two leads, and those two leads may never be better than this. In one corner, there’s Cooper, who’s never had a role like this. In fact, to say the best movie of the year features the guy known mainly for the Hangover franchise, Wedding Crashers and The A-Team as its lead as a ridiculous sentence – and yet, it’s true. Cooper is simply amazing, perfectly portraying Pat’s constant mood swings and turning every relationship he has into something meaningful and distinct. It’s a turn both shouty and subtle that ends up being as wow-worthy a performance as anything I’ve seen this year.
And in the other corner, there’s Lawrence, who may just be my favorite actress in Hollywood already. (And she’s practically a year younger than me!) This is miles apart from her brilliantly steely turn as the lead of The Hunger Games, but it adds to a short list of superb performances. In an outstanding ensemble, it’s her performance that lingers the most. Lawrence is at turns explosive and silently introspective, helping turn Tiffany into one of the best characters in recent cinematic memory. I loved every second she was on screen. It’s hard to be a perfectly-cast lead in a movie that makes nearly $700 million worldwide and have a more defining performance in the same year, but Lawrence does.
There’s so much more to love about Silver Linings Playbook, and I can’t end this review without a well-deserved shout out to director David O. Russell, who also wrote the script. He manages the tone perfectly, both on the script and on the screen, and a bevy of widespread musical choices helps establish the mood. And cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi helps establish a unique visual style that contributes to the movie’s atmosphere. Silver Linings Playbook is a spectacular surprise that captivates at every conceivable moment. I can’t recommend it any more.