Cast: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert de Niro, Jacki Weaver, Anupam Kher, Chris Tucker
Director: David O Russell
Indian Express Rating: ****
Amid the other much-talked-about Oscar contenders, Silver Linings Playbook has slowly caught up and picked up eight nominations -- including all four for acting (first time since Reds in 1981) and all the big five (best film, director, actor, actress, screenplay). It's easy to see what has caught the jury's imagination in this screwball comedy that knows just how to skillfully teeter on the edge of disaster -- quite like the state of its two main actors.
However, it isn't just Pat (Cooper) or Tiffany (Lawrence), undergoing therapy and on prescribed drugs, who have medical illness here. Each one of its cast is a bit off-kilter -- something, the film playfully suggests, could hold true of all of us. Pat's father Pat Sr (de Niro), a bookie, is obsessively compulsive about baseball games and superstitious about how he can ensure a win and money from them. He also has anger issues, and a fight he entered into means he can no longer go to stadiums to watch the game. Pat's friend Ronnie feels pressured by his controlling wife and takes it out by playing Mettalica and hitting things in his garage. Pat's brother is coldly proper, and another friend Pat made at the hospital where he was admitted (Chris Tucker) keeps running away finding loopholes in the law. His and Tiffany's neighbours take vicarious pleasure in their public breakdowns.
Tiffany herself suffered from depression after her husband's death and her behaviour after that has not just earned her society's disapproval but a medical condition requiring therapy and medicines.
Amid these harmless neurotic sorts, it's only Pat's long-suffering mother Dolores (Weaver) who holds it all together. And it's a class act from Weaver, the mother hen who senses all the undercurrents and hops around nervously ensuring there are no explosions. She seems dangerously vulnerable and yet the strong matriarch who can take it all in, who gets her son out of a mental institution against the wishes of doctors and without letting her husband know, because of the strength of her belief in and love for him.
It's how well the characters are etched, in white and grey and the varying shades in between, that makes the first half of Silver Linings Playbook, directed and written for the screen by David O Russell from a Matthew Quick book, such a delight. Cooper's Pat, suffering from a bipolar disorder, is menacing, manic and hopelessly tragic in his desperation to get his wife back (she left after he almost beat her lover to death). He has episodes, picks himself up again and runs the streets dressed in a garbage bag to get himself in shape for her. Lawerence's Tiffany is flippant yet the most deeply prescient observer of people -- note the dinner at her sister's house where she meets Pat. De Niro's Pat Sr is a father who doesn't know how to handle a son who may be more like him than he is willing to acknowledge.
Even Kher as Dr Patel, Pat's therapist, fits in seamlessly into the story without much ado about his Asian-ness.
It's the film's upbeat insistence on a "silver lining", achieved through a "positive outlook", that seems somewhat of a stretch in the second half. Unlike the characters driving the story in the beginning, it is the story that appears to be edging them along now -- with the transition from one to the other rather too obvious for a film of otherwise such subtle nature. A bet is thrown in, involving both a crucial game and a dance show that Tiffany wants to win with Pat -- with all of it rounded up into a perfect ending.
"Life is hard enough," Pat says in the beginning, fuming at Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms. "Why can't there be happy endings?"
For one, because edges such as in Silver Linings Playbook don't make such perfect rounds -- and why should they?