COLUMN: Cooper finds the silver linings of mental illness in “Silver Linings Playbook”
David O. Russell is a director known for merging indie techniques with Hollywood conventions to rejuvenate tired genres. He tackled action films with “Three Kings” and sports films with “The Fighter,” and now Russell brings his unique brand of renovation to the romantic comedy with “Silver Linings Playbook.”
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence play two mentally-unstable and star-crossed individuals in this hilarious and poignant blend of a romantic comedy.
Just released from a mental home and battling trauma brought on by the discovery of his wife having an affair, Pat (Cooper) returns home to live with his doting parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver) in order to get his life together. Yet, Pat almost immediately resumes an unhealthy obsession with reconnecting with his estranged wife, who has a restraining order against him.
Cooper’s character soon meets recently-widowed Tiffany (Lawrence) and discovers a kindred spirit. They share a mutual attraction, and both struggle against mental illness triggered by marital collapse.
The ensuing relationship is a veritable roller coaster of antagonism, outbursts and make ups. Yet, through the triumphs and turmoil, the two form a complex bond. Russell brilliantly uses the characters’ flaws to reveal the complexities of interpersonal relationships.
Simultaneously, Russell doesn’t pity Tiffany and Pat for their problems. Cooper and Lawrence portray their characters as characters, not caricatures, which was a seam into which the film easily could have slipped. Russell is careful not to simplify mental illness. Even though the characters are mentally flawed, the audience remains with them the whole way.
The script, by Russell and based on the novel by Matthew Quick, juxtaposes laugh-out-loud comedy and tragedy without being melodramatic. The seamless shifting between the two makes for some darkly comedic moments. Yet, “Silver Linings Playbook” never comes across as morbid. Miraculously, the film manages to keep a straight face and capture the audience all the way to a rewarding resolution.
The supporting cast further strengthens the humor and pathos of the film. De Niro truly is sentimental in his portrayal of the heartbroken father figure, and Chris Tucker gives a potentially career-resuscitating performance as Pat’s friend from the mental home.
“Silver Linings Playbook” is the most entertaining romantic comedy in years primarily because it sheds the tiresome tropes associated with that genre while retaining and rearranging better elements to create something completely new. With its convincing portrayal of mental illness and astounding mix of comedy and tragedy, “Silver Linings Playbook” is easily one of the top contenders for best film of the year.
Tony Beaulieu is a film and media studies junior.