Bradley Cooper’s continued push to distance himself form his most famous character, the slime-ball Phil of “The Hangover” fame, continues with “Silver Linings Playbook,” a David O. Russell film that pioneers the genre of mental illness rom com.
Cooper is Pat Solitano a separated substitute teacher, jailed for beating his wife’s boyfriend half to death. Now his wedding song, “My Cherie Amour,” sends him into rages and he has severe control issues. After eight months being institutionalized he’s released into the reluctant care of his parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver). His recovery is slowed by a fixation on his ex-wife, but helped along by a kindred spirit, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) a troubled widow who needs Pat’s help to win a dance competition.
Cooper stretches here, displaying his well-honed comedic skills but tempering the jokes with some serious dramatic chops. He desperate to rebuild his life and Cooper shows us how he slowly gets the building blocks in order to achieve his goal. It’s nice work that turns on a dime from manic to awkward to disheartened, often in the same scene.
Director David O Russell (“The Fighter,” “Three Kings”) visually echoes Pat’s various states, using the camera and zooms and fast cuts to give us an idea of the mental state of the main character.
Vying for attention are Lawrence and De Niro. Lawrence brings considerable charm and chops to Tiffany. Her understanding, but slightly icy stare as Pat meets her for the first time with the greeting, “You look nice. How’d Tom die?” is skilled, subtle and effective.
Ditto De Niro, except for the subtle part. He hands in a broad performance as a father who couldn’t ever relate to his son. Their relationship is based on a mutual love for the Eagles football team and dad’s belief that Pat provides some sort of mojo for the team during the playoffs.
So, good performances all round, but the last half is marred by too much repetitious dialogue—arguments that go nowhere—and football superstition that leads the story far afield from where it began.
Mental illness is a complicated subject that the film doesn’t exactly treat lightly. Instead “Silver Linings Playbook” uses it as a plot device