Back in the game
Great performances at heart of ‘crazed sitcom’
Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) is returning to his blue-collar neighborhood in Philadelphia after an eight-month, court-mandated stay in a Baltimore mental institution. He’s determined to make amends for the violent incident that got him institutionalized in the first place—as well as separated from his wife and fired from his job as a schoolteacher.
But making amends is not going to be easy. His wife has a restraining order out on him, his former colleagues at the school are alarmed to find him anywhere in the vicinity, and his release is contingent on his being under a kind of house arrest at his parents’ home. Plus, the family abode is a bit of a madhouse, in ways that are only partly metaphorical.
All that plainly has the makings of lurid psychodrama, or noirish soap opera, or a crazed sitcom. Writer-director David O. Russell made the mostly inspired choice of treating this movie version of Matthew Quick’s 2008 novel as all of the above—with lively onscreen results that look like romantic comedy of an unusually brash and farcical sort.
The comic element is in dark-edged play right from the start. The semi-delusional nature of his good intentions toward his seriously alienated wife, Nikki (Brea Bee), are immediately evident, and his parents (Robert De Niro as Pat Sr. and Jacki Weaver as mom Dolores) are enabling figures of farce from the moment of their amusingly ambivalent reunions with Pat Jr.
But the heart of both the comedy and the drama in Silver Linings Playbook becomes evident via Pat Jr.’s offbeat collision with a recently widowed Goth/punk gal named Tiffany (a terrific Jennifer Lawrence). In a raucously updated variation on classic screwball comedy, they meet on semi-hostile terms at an awkwardly conceived dinner party, continue the semi-affectionate hostilities while obsessively jogging on local streets, and begin to formulate a partnership via charmingly amateurish participation in a dance contest.
All four of the principal players have been nominated for Oscars, and rightly so. Weaver, alone of the four, has no big scenes, but her moments of reaction, comic and otherwise, are superb.
Much of it nearly goes over-the-top—every kind of lunacy and damaging regret has its double in this tale. But Russell’s rollicking pacing and a lively supporting cast (Chris Tucker, John Ortiz, Julia Stiles, etc.) keep the whole enterprise on the sunnier side of its tragicomic implications.