Review originally published September 12, 2012 as part of Film.com's coverage of the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival.
Life is dance, life is a game and "Silver Linings Playbook" sweeps both apt metaphors up into its broad cowl and presents them back to you, smirk firmly affixed. It's a special film, this one, the sort we wait for all year, the kind that reaffirms our belief in talented people working together toward an artistic goal. With great pacing, a great sense of the moment and some of the most entertaining one-liners you'll find this side of a Coen brothers' film, there's much to like about "Silver Linings Playbook."
You probably have a friendship or two in your life you find yourself a bit apprehensive about, the sort of relationship where your guard is always slightly raised. Perhaps your buddy once pulled a knife in a bar, or maybe a pal has told you about a constant struggle with mental illness — whatever the case, you find it difficult to completely relax when you're in the person's company. This is largely the structure of "Silver Linings Playbook," a film that deals with emotional trauma as well as we've seen in quite some time, and in a more realistic manner than "A Beautiful Mind" or "Take Shelter." It's not always a laugh riot, and it's not always clean, but the film makes its mark by creating a world that doesn't feel artificial.
These are the people in your neighborhood, folks you've met, and so connecting with them as characters is almost automatic. Little details help build texture — a fascination with Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson, a gambling compulsion, sibling rivalry, a dinner where patrons sometimes order cereal to ensure they aren't on "a date." Once you've added all these moments up, you're bound to come up with a good score for "Silver Linings Playbook," though we owe it to the world at large to hint at a few plot points while we're exploring the studio space.
Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) has just been released from a mental institution. He's battling a gambit of psychosis, and no one is at all certain which version of Pat will be coming home to live with his parents. For his part, Pat harbors extreme delusions about the direction his life is going to take after his confinement. He's been taught the power of positive thinking, only he's slightly misheard the message. To wit, instead of using his "silver linings" philosophy to roll with the punches, he's decided his new lease on life guarantees him whatever he sets his mind to, including his highly estranged wife who has a restraining order against him.
Pat moves back in with his mom and dad, both of whom have their own stuff going on, and tries to re-insert himself into the community at large, with massively mixed results. His friends decide to introduce him to another disaster of a human, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who has recently lost someone close to her — she's become the female version of Pat, though with a far less positive outlook. Pat and Tiffany's pals set them up on a date as if they were both feral cats, just deciding to huck them together in a bag and hope for the best. This goes about the way you'd expect, with plenty of claws and teeth-gnashing.
When it comes to portraying emotionally damaged people onscreen — a film like "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" comes to mind — it's rarely equally balanced. Generally, someone is saving someone else, or someone realizes their damage was just them needing to grow up. Bi-polar and "I'm off my meds" type of emotional problems? This gives Hollywood pause. A female protagonist that has something less than squeaky clean sexual proclivities? In a drama? Again, not a topic you're going to find out there very often given the skittishness of our culture vis a vis sex. But, hey, guys, here's "Silver Linings Playbook" from director David O. Russell ("The Fighter," "I Heart Huckabees," "Three Kings") delivering on every level.
The performances in "Silver Linings Playbook" are also exceptional. Bradley Cooper is easily the best he's ever been, as is Chris Tucker as Pat's friend Danny. Robert De Niro does a fine job as Pat's father; he hasn't been this solid since "Stardust." Jennifer Lawrence ("The Hunger Games," "Like Crazy," "Winter's Bone") is once again tremendous, and she commands each and every scene she's in. However, the highest level of kudos must be reserved for director David O. Russell, who adapted this work from Matthew Quick's novel of the same name. Russell's steady direction does evoke memories of Best Picture nominee "The Fighter," though this is a far less visual experience. Still, "Silver Linings Playbook" is a genuine keeper, a film to catch in theaters, the dancing game of life placed on a pretty pedestal for all the world to see.