On the quest to remake ourselves, a positive attitude alone is never enough. Such is the hard truth that Silver Linings Playbook, the latest feature by director David O. Russell (Three Kings), feeds its viewers. Bradley Cooper plays bipolar ex-substitute teacher Pat Solitano who, after a court-mandated stint in a mental institution for a violent outburst, moves back in with his parents and sets upon the task of building himself back up and rekindling his relationship with his estranged wife. Joining him on the path of self-improvement is Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence, who starred in this year’s The Hunger Games), a mercurial young widow working through depression.
The film’s acting is fantastic across the board. Cooper has demonstrated a steady increase in the quality and depth of his roles since escaping the pit of being typecast as a smug comedic asshole after appearing in 2009’s The Hangover. Playbook marks Cooper’s transition to films that better highlight his dramatic range. We know he’s handsome and funny; here we also see him frustrated and volatile. Lawrence, who is now only 22, excels at poignant line delivery, sultry movement, and the art of the cold stare. She shines in every scene she’s in, and, judging by her mature performance in this film, has a bright career ahead of her.
At its core, the film shows the arduous struggle of living with mental illness, and seeing the world differently from everyone else, in a serious and shocking manner. The mood of the film itself is bipolar at times; one scene can be hilarious as Cooper and Lawrence trade quirky quips without social inhibition, and the next can be a nail-biting portrayal of how Pat’s disorder slowly destroys his home life. Put together, the film does an excellent job of agonizing and satisfying the audience in one fell swoop.