Silver Linings Playbook

JACKSON CAINES can see a silver lining, but still decries the formulaic nature of this film.

Bradley Cooper David O’Russell Jacki Weaver Jennifer Lawrence robert de niro Silver Linings Playbook

He is desperate to win back the affections of his estranged wife. She is a sexy mutual friend who volunteers to teach him a dance routine that will prove his commitment and dedication. As the big dance arrives he’s convinced the plan will work, but has the real love of his life been under his nose all this time?

So far so conventional – straight out of the Hollywood rom-com ‘playbook’, you might say. That’s because I forgot to mention that he just got out of a mental hospital, having nearly beat a history teacher to death for having an affair with his wife, and is now struggling with bi-polar disorder. She’s the widow of a cop who got hit by a car while buying lingerie, and just got fired for sleeping with eleven colleagues.

Silver Linings Playbook, then, is ostensibly a rom-com with edge. It gets off to an intriguing start, with Pat (Bradley Cooper) being driven home from the hospital by his mum, an anxious but stoic Jacki Weaver. Pat is living by his upbeat motto, ‘excelsior’, determined to see silver linings even though the odds are stacked against him: his wife, Nikki, has moved away and slapped a restraining order on him. Meanwhile his football-obsessed dad (a competent but tired Robert De Niro) has fallen on hard times and resorted to bookmaking.  It doesn’t help that Pat refuses to take his meds and, in a very funny scene, has violent reactions to Hemingway’s unhappy endings. Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), an attractive girl who may just be more fucked up than him, seems to offer the one genuine silver lining.

Bradley Cooper is impressively in control of a challenging lead part. I have a friend with bi-polar disorder so I’ve seen what it can do, and Cooper captures it all – the bubbly, delusional highs and the frustrated, unpredictable lows. It’s surely a testament to his acting that he remains an endearing character even after beating up his parents early in the film. Director David O’Russell reveals Pat’s disturbing backstory in brilliant piecemeal fashion, an unexpected series of grim flashbacks to his crime providing a real emotional kick – though he needs to get over his irritating directorial quirk of quickly zooming into actors’ faces. As Tiffany and Pat get to know each other, it seems the audience is in for a refreshingly quirky onscreen romance, complete with wistful reminiscing over drug brands and some very confrontational jogging.

It was all going so well. About half way through the film, however, O’Russell throws in the towel and surrenders himself to all the clichéd trappings of your average rom-com. Established Hollywood sub-genres, namely the sport film and the dance film, are clumsily thrown together. In one protracted scene of mind-numbing tedium, De Niro and his gambling buddy thrash out a ‘parlay’ on which the outcome of the plot unconvincingly hinges. I understand that Russell’s script is an adaptation of a novel, but this is no excuse for the complete breakdown in believability as Tiffany suddenly reveals her encyclopaedic knowledge of American football.

If there is a silver lining, it’s that Cooper and Lawrence are immensely talented and hopefully have many fine films ahead of them. I just hope those films have the guts to throw out the playbook once and for all.