By Vinnie Lione-Napoli
“Silver Linings Playbook” is simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking in a fusion masterfully crafted by director David O. Russell. This is no ordinary “romantic comedy” characterized by petty characters and vapid love. In the film, both Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) and his father (Robert DeNiro) become frustrated quite often, though for two entirely different reasons. The father, being an obsessive Philadelphia Eagles fan, is tired of his team losing games that matter due to his new bookkeeping career. For Solitano, his trigger is a song.
When Solitano hears his wedding song, he becomes enraged. While this particular song may have enveloped the happiest day of his life, the same melody was background music to his darkest hour.
When Solitano arrived in his home and found his wife, Nikki, with another man, his violent reaction effectively put their marriage at an indefinite standstill. After spending some time at a mental hospital for bipolar disorder, Solitano is welcomed back into his parents’ house. Solitano’s father is determined to spend time with his son on Sundays during the Eagles games and Solitano’s mother (Jacki Weaver) just wants to see her boy back on his feet. With the help of severe tunnel vision, Solitano focuses his efforts on winning his wife’s love back.
Throughout the film, Solitano wears virtually two significant outfits: a black garbage bag over a gray sweatshirt for jogging and a DeSean Jackson jersey. While he assures his parents that the garbage bag is for sweating, the outfit is still a subtle reminder of his broken-down life as he works his way toward a fitness level suitable for his wife.
Solitano is soon introduced to Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), his friend’s headstrong sister-in-law. Both Solitano and Tiffany, a recovering sex addict, quickly and haphazardly form a bond, sealed by their shattered marriages, mental ailments and ability to almost heal each other.
The bulk of the plot involves a deal that the two construct. If Solitano wants Tiffany to help him communicate with his wife, he must be her dance partner in an upcoming competition. As the story unfolds, the entire family becomes involved in a complex parlay that involves both the outcome of an Eagles game and the dance competition. Cooper undoubtedly delivers his strongest performance to date in “Silver Linings Playbook,” poignantly portraying a man down on his luck, crippled by angst and looking for a way out by staying optimistic and diligent.
Lawrence embodies a degree of maturity unprecedented for someone barely in her 20s. Her character was a clear standout, enchantingly blending a wide array of polarized emotional traits into one Oscar-worthy performance. Both DeNiro and Weaver are fantastic as Solitano’s loving yet burdened parents, each adding their own pieces to the dramatic puzzle but also providing a great deal of the film’s comedy.
As director, Russell deals with similar themes and character flaws as he did in 2010’s “The Fighter.” Instead of telling the story of an addict boxing star’s fall from grace, he weaves the tale of an ordinary man with more understandable issues. Both characters want comebacks but become acutely aware of the obstacles they’ll need to overcome.There’s no shortage of either romance or comedy, as the movie is equally uplifting and genuinely hilarious.
“You have to do everything you can, and if you stay positive, you have a shot at a silver lining,” Solitano says to his therapist early on in the film. When he reads Hemingway, he is frustrated by the lack of happy endings. Despite the outcome of his family’s parlay, Solitano can at least say that he’s doing everything he can to search for his own happy ending.
But perhaps that’s the silver lining.