I’m sick of inspirational movies about people with problems. There. I said it. And for all the hate I might receive for that, it’s true that over the past few years Hollywood has seen a lot of films that adapt and emulate the “Cuckoo’s Nest” dynamic. Granted, formula is formula, but ultimately it’s the journey that’s the destination, and Silver Linings Playbook gets there in an unconventional way.
Based on the novel of the same name by Matthew Quick and adapted for the screen by David O. Russell, the film revolves around former teacher Pat Solitano’s (played by Bradley Cooper) return home after a stint in a mental institution. Separated from his wife and living with his parents (played by Jacki Weaver and Robert DeNiro), he is attempting to repair his marriage when he meets Tiffany (played by Jennifer Lawrence), a girl with problems of her own. They discover that they both have something to offer the other in order to help each other get back on their feet. Between therapy, dancing, and the Philadelphia Eagles, they find the silver linings in their lives.
The matter-of-fact manner in which the film handles the subject of mood disorders is probably the most refreshing aspect of it. Pat and Tiffany’s absurdly straightforward willingness to address their issues is a stark contrast to the hushed silences and soulful, tormented dialogue we usually expect from films that feature such subject matter. In fact, it’s almost satirical in its commentary. Even Pat’s therapist (played by Bollywood actor Anupam Kher) is unabashedly direct in his sessions with him.
More than anything else, it’s the characters that are the vehicles for the theme, as opposed to something they channel their problems through such as singing, writing, or dancing (granted, they do dance, but the plot doesn’t revolve around it). Bradley Cooper’s performance as belligerently sensitive Pat strikes all the right chords while still remaining humorous and accessible, and only he could successfully pull off such a performance. And it’s a nice breakaway from the usual screwball-comedies we’ve gotten used to seeing him in. Jennifer Lawrence also proves her versatility; as one of the rising stars in the industry, she handles the more adult role with as much grace as with sass.
Yes, some aspects of the plot are cheesy, as expected where “boy meets girl” is concerned, but when all is said and done, I didn’t have to try valiantly to keep up with the dialogue to understand the film’s message. It is altogether very aware that its characters are average human beings, and takes advantage of their imperfections to create a film that, far from being alienating, is one of the most relevant and optimistic social commentaries I have seen in a while.