Dysfunction is never the goal of an American family. Ideally, everyone wants to get along, avoid conflict and dodge uncomfortable situations. But of course, every family has its issues — some more than others — and when the craziness comes, the only way to quell the chaos is to recognize it. Rather than sweep family feuding under the rug or paint an idyllic portrait of June Cleaver & Co., “Silver Linings Playbook” tells the truth about what goes on beyond the domestic threshold — and more often than not, it’s a far cry from “Home Sweet Home.”
Silver Linings Playbook
At Quality 16 and Rave
The Weinstein Company
After Pat (Bradley Cooper, “Hit & Run”) finds his wife Nikki (Brea Bee, “The Destruction Room”) cheating, he beats the guy to a bloody pulp and earns himself an eight-month stay at a mental institution. When he’s released and smacked with a hefty restraining order, Pat must live with his eccentric parents while he desperately tries to reconcile his marriage — but he must first show Nikki that he’s a changed man, fitter in mind and body. When Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence, “House at the End of the Street”), a troubled young woman with similar struggles, they form a quirky, combative friendship, one that eventually turns symbiotic: Pat agrees to accompany Tiffany to her ballroom dancing competition if she will sneakily pass on a letter from him to Nikki.
The storyline is fairly simple, straightforward and even a bit slow at times, but the cast of characters couldn’t be more complicated, conflicted and captivating, setting this film apart from typical dramedies.
Cooper tactfully vacillates between dejection and motivation, obstinacy and willingness, and selfishness and generosity. He realistically portrays the impacts of bipolar disorder, providing some hilarious moments: He chucks a Hemingway novel out of a window when he disagrees with the ending, wakes up the whole neighborhood screaming as he searches for his wedding video and destroys a magazine rack in a fit of rage when he hears his wedding song at his psychiatrist’s office. He’s manic and he’s depressed. He says “more inappropriate things than appropriate things,” and he’s surprisingly charming when he does. Cooper is a walking contradiction, and it’s a winning combination.
Giving an equally humanized performance, Lawrence shows a spunky, fearless attitude and a fiery sense of humor. She takes a character grieving the recent death of her husband and emotes confidence, sureness and vicious rhetoric — “Girl Power” at its best. She’s a worthy adversary for Cooper’s loud, obnoxious demeanor, and the best moments arrive when their two personalities clash: Tiffany follows Pat when he goes jogging — to his extreme dismay — and she jokingly accuses him of assault in front of a movie theater, warranting a visit from a police officer.
Robert De Niro (“Freelancers”) adds comedic value as Pat’s father, the most belligerent Philadelphia Eagles fan on the planet, Jacki Weaver (“The Five Year Engagement”) attempts and fails to mitigate peace in the home as Pat’s conservative mother and Chris Tucker (“Rush Hour 3”) gets some laughs as Pat’s friend, a repeat escapee from the loony bin.
But shining through the density of talented performances is the highly entertaining and palpable chemistry between Cooper and Lawrence. It’s the raw, sentimental backbone of the narrative. Their relationship is a touching human connection that elicits hope. It teaches that sometimes it takes two people to accomplish what each cannot do alone, and that even the most unlikely candidate, by outward appearance or initial impression, could be a silver lining.