Adapted and directed by the brilliant and eccentric David O. Russell (Flirting with Disaster, Three Kings, The Fighter), Silver Linings Playbook has found itself staring down the barrel of eight Academy Award nominations. These include Best Picture, Best Director, and all four acting categories. It’s also holding steady with a 92% ‘certified fresh’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes. So no surprise I too am excitedly lauding this quirky dramedy about two misfits juggling their mental illness with leftover relationship baggage. That said, I’m far less excited about the parts that really, really blow chunks. Below is a list of the glowing ‘pros’ and vitriolic ‘cons’ I’ve compiled for the film I love to hate, hate to love, and everything in between. Spoilers? Obvs!
ROCKS: The Acting Is Stellar
The math here is simple: Bradley Cooper’s turn as charming-yet-mentally-unstable Pat Solitano is easily a career highlight to date. Meanwhile, football-obsessed Pat Sr. is Robert De Niro’s best role since Casino: loveable yet infuriating, strong yet kind of pathetic. Australian veteran Jackie Weaver masterfully embodies every subtle and not-so-subtle detail of Dolores, the ageing Philadelphia matriarch. And lastly, between Silver Linings and Winter’s Bone, Jennifer Lawrence has proven beyond a reasonable doubt she’s not just some Hunger Games flash in the pan. Bonus: Chris Tucker’s all up in this? WHAA? Yep, this here is C.T.’s first non-Rush Hour movie in 16 years, and every scene he stumbles into is a freakin’ pleasure to watch.
SUCKS: It Betrays Its Characters
Despite the best of intentions, Silver Linings Playbook doesn’t always know how it wants its characters to behave. And I’m not talking about our leads, Pat and Tiffany (Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence); they’re kinda broken, so erratic behaviour is expected, if not entirely par for the course. I’m talking about supporting players mucking up the film’s tone by acting way out of character for the sake of contrived script devices. You want examples? Fine, here’s two of many.
1) Psychotherapist Dr. Patel spends the film’s first half dispensing sage, clinical advice in the hope of keeping Pat on the straight and narrow. Then in a noggin-scratching turn, he’s relegated to comic relief status as a face-painted football fanatic.
2) Officer Keogh is the tough-but-more-than-fair cop in charge of ensuring Pat doesn’t violate the terms of his release from that mean ol’ state psychiatric institution. Basically, a solid dude. That is until two seconds after Tiffany admits to struggling with a promiscuous streak, where he proceeds to ask, “You wanna get a drink sometime?” Wah-wahhh — get it? Yessir, his character is forsaken to make room for a lame joke. And keep in mind, Tiffany’s still-recently deceased husband was a fellow Philadelphia police officer, thereby making this so-called ‘gag’ even more cringe-worthy.
ROCKS: It’s G-Darn Funny and Quotable
Fantastic dialogue, and so many memorable lines. Below is just a smattering…
Pat: You have poor social skills. You have a problem.
Tiffany: I have a problem? You say more inappropriate things than appropriate things!
Pat Sr.: I’m going to come over and break that camera over your head and come back and interview you about what it’s like to have that camera broken over your head!
Tiffany: You’re not a stand-up guy today, Pat! You’re not a stand-up guy today!
[Pat looks down and notices he and Tiffany are holding hands]
Pat: Wait, what’s this?
Tiffany: I thought you were doing it.
Pat: I thought you were doing it!
SUCKS: The Third Act Is A Freakin’ 1990s Sitcom
No, seriously — we’re talking a really average episode of Dharma & Greg or The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, filled with dopey schemes and coincidences aplenty. Here are the story beats: Pat Sr. has just bet large on Sunday night’s Eagles game, and the outcome will either see his family back in the black or completely destitute. Due to some extreme sports-related superstitions, he needs Pat Jr. by his side for the kickoff. Unfortunately (read: sitcom coincidentally) Patrick and Tiffany’s big dance contest (!) takes place at the exact same time. In fact, every single one of their dance rehearsals had been scheduled up against Eagles games, much to Sr.’s distress (an oddly specific timetable for two people without jobs, some might say).
And just to clunkily dovetail our two main storylines, the family’s bookie only agrees to the bet on condition it’s parlayed with a second wager involving — wait for it — Pat & Tiff’s final score in the competition (dude, really?). Which means for the Solitano family to avoid abject poverty, Philadelphia must beat the spread and our quirky couple has to score a 5 or above with some panel or random dance judges.
Ah, but there’s more. To convince reluctant Pat to follow through on the competition, the family flat-out lies (way out of character, btw), toying with his mental state by suggesting his estranged wife Nikki will be attending. And then whattaya know — she actually ends up being there! Oi. And not to harp again on the whole ‘characters doing stuff out of character’ thing, but are we really expected to believe Nikki — a.k.a. the woman who filed a restraining order against crazed, delusional Patrick for nearly killing her secret lover — would attend his goofy dance thing, on her own volition, and subsequently try to reboot their marriage minutes later? Because that’s exactly what goes down; down like the Hindenburg, baby. In the end, I was half expecting Steve Urkel’s voice to emerge from her mouth and deliver his signature “Did I doooo thaaaat?” catch-phrase. Hey, that line killed in the lame ’90s, man. Killed.