Based on Matthew Quick’s bestselling novel, Silver Linings Playbook is a romantic comedy that does not shy away from the clichés associated with the genre, but instead twists them in its own quirky, unconventional way. Character as opposed to plot driven, the film is centred on Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), who, after having found his wife cheating on him, has spent the last eight months in a mental health centre. Now released, Pat is living with his parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver) and determined to win back his estranged wife Nikki. Helping him along the way is Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a young widow suffering her own mental health problems in the wake of her husband’s death.
Whilst unconventional topic for the genre, director David O. Russell suggests that mental illness is the prime obstacle to be overcome in discovering love. Using this premise, the film provides a fresh take on the overused clichés we associate with the romcom genre, employing such classic storylines and stereotypes such as finding love in unlikely places, the father who cares more about sports that his “loser” of a son, a romantic dance performance at the climax of the film (à la Dirty Dancing) and, finally, the heart-warming closing kiss in the street framed by Christmas lights. However, Russell adds a certain unexpected quality and original zest through the unconventional ways in which the plot leads to these well-worn motifs and plots. Initially, the characters appear like the caricatures one would expect in any dysfunctional romcom family, but as the film progresses, they develop into individuals in their own right. It is nice to see Lawrence and Cooper departing from their mainstream films (The Hunger Games and Hangover) and portraying relatable and authentic characters that have real chemistry, both giving, arguably, the best performances of their respective careers in the process. Cooper has already won the Hollywood Film Festival Award for Actor of the Year for his performance in this film, and De Niro the Best Supporting Actor award. There is a sense of depth and vulnerability in these characters which authenticates the realism of the film and downplays their irritating flaws, making these characters seem more human.
While the film in the first instance appears to tackle issues of mental illness, the romantic aspects of the film ultimately take precedence. While the leads deal with their problems through their friendship, the issue of the father’s OCD and gambling addiction are never sufficiently dealt with and leave, perhaps, an unresolved ending. Similarly, the interesting marital problems of Pat’s friend (John Oritz) hinted at in the film, strongly, but rather belatedly, are overshadowed by the crowded plot and tackled only half-heartedly by Russell.
Unevenly paced, the disorienting ups and downs of the narrative can leave the viewer dizzy and frustrated. However, this does help to reflect the emotional progress of Pat, Tiffany and even Pat Sr. as they struggle to control their mood swings and erratic emotional breakdowns. This instability is highlighted by Danny Elfman’s enigmatic and brilliant score. Departing from the usual darker orchestration undertaken for Tim Burton, his long-time collaborator, in films such as Sleepy Hollow, Elfman returns with a zanier, upbeat soundtrack that also includes notes of melancholy to suit the fluctuating emotional tone of Pat and the film. The song “My Cherie Amour” by Stevie Wonder acts as a leitmotif throughout the film, triggering and foreshadowing Pat’s mental traumas, making the soundtrack even more memorable.
However, for every fall there is a rise and Silver Linings Playbook, as the title might suggest, expresses an optimistic view on life and, as Pat would say, a real sense of “excelsior” that had me leaving the cinema with a genuine smile on my face.