Surrounded by the oppressive confines of a Baltimore mental institution, save for the catch cry ‘Excelsior’ scrawled on paper and adorned on his drab cell wall, we find Patrick (Bradley Cooper) fulfilling his routine of being medicated to the gills. It’s been the required eight months since the courts committed him and despite some spirited objections from the doctors observing and caring for Patrick, his mother (Jacki Weaver) signs a release to bring him home. Patrick’s mental breakdown came at the hands of catching his wife receiving some shower time cunnilingus from a co-worker that resulted in him nearly beating the adulterer to death. This is writer/director David O’Russell’s entry into Patrick’s aptly unglamorous battle with middle-class mental illness.
The glamour of Bradley ‘People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive’ Cooper has been stripped bare, what remains is the exposed nerve of Patrick and a career defining performance. He’s desperately attempting to wrangle his wife’s critiques of how he could improve into a positive goal, and a satisfactory end state, to get back everything that he lost. He delivers Patrick’s laconic barbs of honesty and surgeon like timing that will make you chuckle. And yet O’Russell lets him writhe in the hypocrisy of attempting to accept full culpability of the trigger to his breakdown or maintain the façade that his marriage was perfect. It’s a character that could have easily become an unlikeable jerk. It’s a credit to Cooper and O’Russell for walking the tight rope.
Jennifer Lawrence’s Tiffany is nothing short of tremendous. The tragically young widower sought comfort in the arms of every coworker in her office until she was fired and is now medicated and coping with the lingering depression. She’s paired with Patrick and finds a kindred spirit lost, and the potential for them to conquer their illnesses together. She’s not only ridiculously easy on the eyes but Lawrence has to wrestle with her own inner demons, whilst maintaining a somewhat even keel to play her part for Patrick. It’s a kind of subtle torture that only registers in her gritted teeth, and strokes of brutal honesty.
Robert De Niro’s performance as Pat Snr is finally a contemporary performance that gives us a glimpse of the titan that gave us Jake La Motta (Raging Bull, Scorsese ) and a young Vito Corleone (The Godfather Part II, Coppolla ). The superstitious football lover manifests the worry for his namesake in wanting desperately to share the ‘normality’ of obsessively following the Philadelphia Eagles. Patrick’s positivity is the ‘juju’ that Patrick Snr says the Eagles need to succeed. He’s flawed, he’s ill-equipped to navigate the nuance of his son’s illness; but there’s a deep and profound love that sets its phasers straight at your inner daddy issues.
O’Russell’s The Fighter shone brightest away from the fight set pieces (or any scene with Mark Wahlberg for that matter). It was the gritty Boston neighbourhoods and the palpably real ‘white trash’ suburbs that resonated most. And it’s the grey Philadelphia working class neighbourhoods that at face value, struggle to cope with ingratiating Patrick back to the real world in Silver Linings Playbook, that delivers surprise after surprise.
This reviewer’s only reservations come in the structure and execution of the preamble to the finale of Silver Linings Playbook. There’s a pivotal confrontation between the main players in Patrick’s life, and a ‘Hail Mary’ scheme hatched on the fly that felt contrived in comparison with the rest of the work. I found that it stalled the momentum of this emotional roller-coaster.
Silver Linings Playbook is defined by the positive decisions that are made in the face of imperfection, desperation, and the desolate wasteland of your world in pieces.
and a half
Directed by: David O. Russell
Written by: David O. Russell (screenplay), Matthew Quick (novel)
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, John Ortiz, Chris Tucker, Julia Stiles, Anupam Kher