Where were you the first time you saw David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook (2012)?
It takes a special film for this critic to remember the answer to that question.
Indeed, how could one forget staring into Bradley Cooper’s star fire-blue eyes and falling in love with the character who marked his metamorphosis into the “serious” dramatist who would go on to give us his A Star Is Born (2018)?
As for Jennifer Lawrence, the audience surrogate reacting to this beauty and charisma she covets for herself even though the gulf between she and Cooper is as tantalizingly close but frustratingly wide as that between the viewer and the silver screen, her dramatic catharsis is communal.
If you don’t know what to watch next, Silver Linings Playbook is available on Amazon Prime. The romantic comedy-drama was adapted by the filmmaker himself from the 2008 novel of the same name by Matthew Quick.
It was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay, with Lawrence winning Best Actress.
Set in Philadelphia, Patrizio “Pat” Solitano, Junior (Best Supporting Actor nominee Cooper), is released into the care of his parents, Patrizio Solitano, Senior (Best Supporting Actor nominee Robert De Niro), and Dolores Solitano (Best Supporting Actress nominee Jacki Weaver).
After spending eight months at a mental health facility for bipolar disorder, Pat attends a dinner party with his friend, Ronnie (John Ortiz), and Ronnie’s wife, Veronica (Julia Stiles), where Pat meets Veronica’s sister, Tiffany Maxwell (Lawrence), a mentally ill young widow.
Tiffany falls for Pat, but Pat is still in love with his ex-wife, Nikki Solitano (Brea Bee), who has taken out a restraining order against him after he beat her extramarital lover, and, so, Tiffany offers to give Nikki a letter from Pat if he agrees to enter a dance competition as her partner.
As one can plainly see from all the acting nods, Russell is an actor’s director. That Silver Linings Playbook is one of only a handful of films in Oscars history to be up for all four acting categories testifies to that.
But Silver Linings Playbook succeeds where, say, American Hustle (2013) fails because it is as narratively tight as it is dramatically fiery, while the overlong American Hustle is bloated with its cast’s improvisational excesses.
And Lawrence is every bit as bright as you would expect her to be. Between this, American Hustle, and Joy (2015), her creative partnership with Russell sings the song of a muse and her artist. Her alchemic transformation into Tiffany is a firework show.
Unfortunately, though, she continues the trend of women with mental illnesses being sensationalized on film. Another Lawrence collaborator, Darren Aronofsky, similarly exploited Natalie Portman in his Black Swan (2010), for which Portman also took home the trophy.
A person’s psycho-emotional suffering shouldn’t be a means to an end for actors looking to make spectacles of themselves.
However, Silver Linings Playbook humanizes Tiffany as a romantic lead, rather than villainizing her a la Adrian Lyne’s Fatal Attraction (1986). She is no less magnetic than Cooper himself.
The film is miraculous in the romance it electrifies between two people for whom love is more painful than not, a spell only movie magic can cast.