Academy Award nominee David O. Russell follows up his bruising boxing drama The Fighter (2010) with Silver Linings Playbook (2012), a similarly bittersweet tale of mental illness and obsession starring The Hangover franchise’s Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. Resident Philadelphian Pat Solitano (Cooper) has lost it all – including, it would seem, his mind. After catching his wife Nikki (Brea Bee) cheating on him in the shower and losing his job as a history teacher, Pat is sectioned in a public institution which he is released from eight months later, into the custody of his doting parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver).
Now stuck in the family home with his neurotic/borderline OCD father, who is obsessed with the fortunes of American football team the Philadelphia Eagles, Pat convinces himself that he must get a grip of his life in order to and win back Nikki. This is up until he encounters the recently widowed Tiffany (Lawrence), a women with more than her fair share of problems, who offers to pass letters to his ex-wife in exchange for a favour or two. A bond forms between these two unhinged characters that, through their dysfunctional behaviour, illustrates that they are both far from being without hope.
Russell’s new alt. rom-com has already gleaned its fair share of critical praise on the festival circuit, no doubt for its attempts to portray likeable working class characters plagued by the horrors of mental illness. However, strip away the chatter and what you find is at best a semi-satisfying tale of two socially ostracised individuals that find hope in their mutual loneliness. Cooper’s Pat rants about Hemingway in the middle of the night and dons a bin liner whilst out jogging, all accompanied by the customary facial twitches and staring eyes that Hollywood associates with mental illness.
Yet despite such a relatively cheap portrayal of (one assumes) manic depression and bi-polar disorder, Cooper manages to show that he is still capable of doing more than his traditional throw-away, comedic roles. The scenes of bonding between Pat and father Pat Sr. in the family home are some of the best of Silver Linings Playbook, with Cooper doing his utmost to portray his character’s pitiful state, battling not just his own problems, but also his father’s chronic obsession with good luck rituals and gambling odds. Slightly less impressive is Lawrence, who, whilst credible as a grief-racked widow, spends far too much of the film relegated to flirtatious dancing in order to catch Pat’s eye.
Perhaps the central problem with O. Russell’s latest endeavour is in the film’s huge tonal shift half way through the narrative, the core issues of fragile mental health and dependency thrown to the wind in favour of a Strictly Ballroom style dance contest. This inevitably builds to a cheesy, overly saccharine conclusion involving a bizarre accumulator bet at complete odds with the foundations laid at the beginning of the film. Inoffensive for the most part, but jarring and clichéd at worst, Silver Linings Playbook will have its fans and its dissenters – which camp you fall into is almost as predictable as the toss of a coin.