A romantic comedy doesn’t need to be fluff. There is the possibility of telling a story that is both romantic and funny all the while being grounded in realism and letting any tension come as a natural result of the characters’ actions. There doesn’t need to be a forced third act. There doesn’t need to be stilted dialogue and character contrivances. One only needs to look at any Katherine Heigl movie to see everything that can go wrong with a romantic comedy. On the other end of the spectrum we have Silver Linings Playbook. This is a film so good that it may be my favorite movie of 2012.
David O. Russell directs this film about making connections among flawed individuals. Every character feels authentic under his direction. Russell has directed some stellar films in the past with perhaps his best known being Three Kings and The Fighter. He was also responsible for I Heart Hukabees which I believe to be underrated. Russell has famously clashed with at least one actor on nearly all of his sets, but the results always tend towards the fabulous.
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star as Pat and Tiffany. Pat has just been released from a mental hospital after having a breakdown when he caught his wife cheating on him. He is diagnosed as Bi-polar and Bradley Cooper plays this amazingly well. He is always on the verge of losing control and it is taking everything he has to keep it together. While visiting with his old friends he is introduced to Tiffany who is a recent widow and has been fired for her sexual escapades around the office. Tiffany is also desperately trying to hold herself together and find her place in the world. They clash and disagree in a way that feels natural in two people that aren’t sure how to trust. Bradley Cooper is perfect in this film. Jennifer Lawrence is every bit as good. Coming off of Winter’s Bone Lawrence is showing that she has the capability to carry a movie solely on the strength of her performances. She is a force and her future is bright indeed, although, Cooper’s performance was more surprising to me. Bradley Cooper has made his name by playing pretty boys with frat boy mentalities. Limitless showed a glimpse of some depth, but was ultimately wasted on the film. Here he shines through. His performance doesn’t appear forced or contrived. His character has deep flaws that influence his actions and Cooper doesn’t shy away from them. He lets Pat be a real person and in doing so lets him be the man the audience wants him to be.
Silver Linings Playbook also has the distinction of being the film that reminds us that Robert De Niro can actually act. De Niro has phoned in most of his performances for the last decade or so, but here he plays Pat Sr. and gives a touching performance as a dad who struggles not only with trying to understand a son with a mental disability, but with his own as well. Pat Sr. has OCD (and likely Bi-polar as well) and he tries to filter all of his interactions through his experiences with Philadelphia Eagles games. Someone that doesn’t fit into his ideas of what life should be about baffle him and De Niro lets the puzzlement influence his performance. He is wonderful in this supporting role.
The supporting cast all around is very solid with especially good performances being turned in by Jacki Weaver and Chris Tucker. For the record, this is Tucker’s first role that wasn’t in a Rush Hour movie since Jackie Brown in 1997.
Silver Linings Playbook may have been the best film of 2012. It certainly at least deserves to be in the conversation. This is a film about trying to find yourself all over again after everything has gone wrong even while the deck is stacked against you. It’s about building trust and learning how to navigate a world that doesn’t care about you. It’s also about defying the traditions of a genre. Love doesn’t happen the way Hollywood normally depicts it. David O. Russell has helmed a fantastic film that takes the tropes of romantic comedies and turns them on their heads merely by introducing realistic characters that act in a realistic ways. This film shows that love exists in the real world. It may be difficult and maddening, but it’s there. Love may not “overcome” mental illness, but that doesn’t mean that those afflicted can’t find hope. There’s always a silver lining, you just need to look for it.