With one foot in the realm of comedy and the other in that of drama, Silver Linings Playbook, which comes out Wednesday, strums the chord between funny and serious, often ending up somewhere in a world of the absurd that somehow leaves room for romance.
Starring Bradley Cooper as Pat Solitano, a school teacher whose grip on life crumbles after he walks in on his wife cheating on him with a co-worker, and Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany, a dark but quirky, brooding but beautiful young widow, the movie follows their lives in a way that mirrors the disturbia in their heads.
Silver Linings Playbook starts when Pat’s mother, Dolores, played by Jacki Weaver, checks Pat out of the mental health facility he has been in following his wife Nikki’s affair. Director David O. Russell does a fine job of illustrating how Pat is on the precipice between sanity and the lack of it, and when Pat meets Tiffany, it is clear that she is standing on a similar fault line.
This tension is best defined by scenes that had the audience laughing one minute and shocked into silence the next, like when Pat’s search for his wedding video turns into a family brawl that attracts a police officer or when Pat and Tiffany’s banter at a diner goes bad, ending in bitter magnificence as she sweeps the table clean in a single stroke.
Moments such as these, when the dynamic between characters shifts from humor to horror, best characterize Silver Linings Playbook. Russell’s genius in this aspect sets the film apart from other rom-coms, elevating it to a level that keenly reflects its origins as a novel.
Although the story follows Pat’s hell-bent mission to win back his wife, it is clear from the start that there is a spark between Tiffany and him. But, Pat’s obsession with Nikki — a mania inherited from his father, played by Robert DeNiro, who is a frenzied fan of the Philadelphia Eagles — dominates their early interactions.
While the trajectory of Pat and Tiffany’s relationship at first seems like it could fall flat, what keeps it interesting is that Pat and Tiffany themselves don’t know how it’ll all turn out.
Due in part to this uncertainty, Pat and Tiffany’s relationship is intriguing from first interaction to last, marked by surprises but fueled by their cautious but undeniable chemistry. After all, their parallel idiosyncrasies are so in sync that any other outcome is unimaginable.
Since their friendship has mutual benefits — he will be her partner for the dance recital her heart is set on, she will help him win back the wife whom his heart is set on — it is easy for Pat to defend the relationship as platonic, which he does relentlessly to nurse his hopes of getting Nikki back.
Pat and Tiffany’s friendship is sure to grow, as Tiffany continuously prods at the sparks between them, hoping to ignite something more. The question is, then, which one of them is going to get burned?
After all, there are always obstacles on the road to happily ever after. In this case, it is Pat’s hope of getting Nikki back, driven in part by his mantra, “Excelsior!” or “ever upward.” Russell handily sews a thread of doubt throughout the entire movie, suggesting the possibility of Pat’s return to his wife.
For example, when Nikki attends the recital and watches with an admiring eye, we see Pat might have a shot at getting her back. He even approaches her after, whispering something the audience doesn’t hear, a subtle illustration of Russell’s tactical touch. Tiffany picks up on this as well, and when she gets the sense she has lost her chance with Pat, she flees.
“When life reaches out at a moment like this, it’s a sin if you don’t reach back,” advises Pat’s father, the most standout supporting character, when Pat stands at a fork in the road between Tiffany and Nikki.
Russell does a remarkable job of exploring unchartered territory, bringing a whole new meaning to the term “madly in love” in a way that makes for a refreshing plotline. The stellar dialogue carries the movie, following the characters’ ups and downs while crafting a supporting cast that is comedic but endearing. The film invites the audience to engage in the characters’ intricacies and contemplate love in madness, or madness in love.
By the end of the film, it is clear that Pat’s mantra of life has changed. It no longer refers to going back to the way things were, but the possibility of moving on. “Ever upward,” after all, also means moving forward, away from the past, and into the future — a future where there is a silver living in all sorts of crazy.