I approached David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook at the recommendation of a friend and, coming into it, I had very little expectation beyond what I’d remembered hearing around the time of its release which, in my mind, had made it sound like a fairly run-of-the-mill romantic comedy – thankfully that assumption proved mostly wrong.
Certainly the film includes ‘romance’ and it does have its comedy elements, however it does this in a context of what I’d call a ‘comedy drama’ if that phrase didn’t conjure images of Sunday evening TV as much as it does.
The story follows Bradley Cooper’s Pat and picks things up as his mother arrives to collect him from a ‘mental health facility’ where, it transpires, he’s been undergoing treatment for bi-polar disorder.
From there it deals with his return to his parents house, the reactions of himself, his friends, family and neighbours to his release and the situation that led to his being incarcerated in the first place. Following this we see development of a new relationship between Pat and Jennifer Lawrence’s Tiffany which occurs in a way that is a good solid twist on the conventions of the Hollywood ‘rom-com’.
The main thing that Silver Linings Playbook focusses on is the relatively taboo issue of metal health (though why it’s as taboo as it is remains largely inexplicable and with films like this that is changing).
While many films might labour this point and become a bit ‘worthy’ what David O. Russell’s work does is simply incorporate them into the story and it deals with them in a rather refreshingly honest and seemingly realistic way – though there are a few melodramatic moments, but that is part of it being a movie.
The plot too has its share of melodrama, especially in its climactic scenes which do feel a bit contrived in places (particularly as relates to the story around the bets made by Pat’s father), but again this is largely forgivable within the film’s wider context.
What really roots the film are the performances which are as open and honest as I’ve seen when dealing with these issues. Cooper and Lawrence do the main part of the work and are entirely believable throughout leading to as many moments of humour as sheer discomfort, and everything in between, which seems to excellently sum up what they are dealing with.
Meanwhile Robert De Niro turns what could have been something very one note, in the role of Pat’s father, into something more with an extra layer that helps elevate the character and expose another sub-thread to Pat’s story (though he has a few Meet The Parents moments thrown in too). This comes both from the script and his performance but in the wrong hands it could have been very ham-fistedly delivered.
With an underlying message that mental health should be worked with, rather than explicitly ‘cured’, Silver Linings Playbook manages to offer a different perspective on its subject to most mainstream fare, while remaining firmly within the context of a Hollywood style film and certainly presents a lot to think about in the context of a genuinely entertaining and engaging situation comedy.