There is that “feel good” quality in David O. Russell’s latest film, and why shouldn’t there be? Most films have those three act structures of characters in a pretty dark place, find some sort of muse to take them out of their emotional or physical obstacle, and lead on to that road of predictable, sappy endings that make the audience cheer and leave with a big smile on their face. Russell seems to perfectly understand that role in certain types of cinema, and while Silver Linings tries to attain it’s own vision under the guise of fairly personal “dramedy” for some of the film’s screen time, there’s that compulsive need to fall back on that “feel good” route that doesn’t inherently hurt the film, but never making the film truly great either.
The main focus of the film is mental illness, and the effect that it can have on friends and family. That afflicted character is Pat (Bradley Cooper) who is let out of a mental institution after a violent outburst made him lose his wife and teaching job. Feeling the need to be on the road to recovery, he begins a plan to better himself, crossing roads with another damaged individual Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), as well as dealing with a rocky relationship with his mother (Jacki Weaver) and father (Robert DeNiro).
The first act of the film is probably the strongest aspect of Silver Linings, with Russell showing how deep the problems with Cooper’s Pat have really gotten, as well as how these problems could have originated through his home life. There’s this looseness in this part of the story, and Cooper really sells the emotions and pent up anger that Pat has been dealing with throughout his life. One particular breakdown regarding Pat is visceral and intense, really selling Pat’s mental illness and not having that aspect being played up as a quality for Pat’s character that could seem like a minor hindrance in other films that would deal with this type of theme.
The other strong aspect in the first act is Lawrence’s Tiffany, whose back-and-forth with Pat, and as another troubled character is really solid. Lawrence truly shines in this role, always bringing that off-kilter personality, but never forgetting that her character is emotionally damaged. She’s always on par with the other actors around her, never feeling diminished by the likes of Cooper and even Deniro. She simply sells her character in every way that she can, whether it calls to be subdued or aggressively manic.
The relationship of Pat and Tiffany is one of the main selling points of the film, and while the pairing seems like something that feels as artificially Hollywood that the script calls for, Cooper and Lawrence make the whole thing work. The whole feels organic for most of the film’s running time, never having times where the film has each of the characters reflect on their relationships to other characters, but rather letting the audience be smart enough to know that their chemistry is blooming every time that they are together.
But, while there’s this subtlety in Silver Lining Playbook, the film unfortunately seems very dead set to go down a road where there’s this huge conflict and that the characters need to work together to overcome that obstacle. Now, the main focal point of Pat and his mental illness is the obstacle in the Russell’s film, but another obstacle pops up in the film regarding Deniro’s character that just seemed out-of-place for a film that had a bit more looseness in how the characters connect and develop as people. Not to say that the film’s script loses the more subtle approach to how the main characters evolve as people, but now the film is under the third act portion of the script that is heart warming and many audiences will lap up, but doesn’t feel as authentic as the rest of the film felt.
But, while Silver Lining Playbook does lose its authenticity near the end, the film still has great direction and acting to somewhat elevate the predictable “feel good” qualities that Russell enjoys to implement in this film. There’s nothing thoroughly groundbreaking or amazing in this film, but a leisurely Saturday/Sunday night viewing for those interested will probably get the most out of David O Russell’s film.