After discovering his wife’s affair, Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) ends up in a psychiatric hospital for eight months to work on getting his mental health under control (and to avoid a serious criminal charge after nearly beating the other man to death). Once he’s back home with his parents, Pat begins to reach out to her, despite this being a violation of the restraining order she’s taken out against him. He soon meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), the sister of one of Nikki’s friends. Tiffany is also a widow, having lost her husband recently in an accident. When Tiffany offers to help Pat get a letter to his estranged wife, he agrees to dance with her in a local competition. Things come to a head when Pat’s father, Patrizio (Robert De Niro), places a high-risk parlay bet on a football game, along with Pat and Tiffany’s success in the dancing competition.
Jennifer Lawrence is one of those actresses that I’ve generally enjoyed watching in nearly every movie I’ve seen her in. But I admit I have a soft spot for Tiffany. Brutally honest and self-aware, Tiffany projects the kind of strength that almost dares those around her to challenge it, and yet regardless of her demeanor, Lawrence is able to project such emotion with a mere look that you can almost physically feel the pain she’s going through.
In my opinion, Bradley Cooper was robbed of the Best Actor Oscar for A Star Is Born, but I admit I feel like his performance here as Pat is far superior to Jackson Maine (I know, I know. That may be considered blasphemous to many, and I get it!). Struggling with his bipolar disorder, it’s clear Pat doesn’t really consider himself to be mentally unstable. At least not as much as Tiffany. He’s in complete denial that his marriage may actually be over because now he’s been doing the things Nikki wanted from him when they together.
It would be easy to call Pat naive, but he’s not. Yes, he’s in denial, but Cooper is so brilliant in conveying Pat’s pure need to hold onto any semblance of hope even as he reads off the long list of changes he’s made or is in the process of making, to win Nikki back. He can’t admit to himself that Nikki isn’t coming back, because that would set him off the deep end again, and he wants so desperately to stay grounded. Pat can be rude and insulting, excusing his behavior by claiming he “has no filter”. He is a ticking bomb ready to explode at any second (and he does a couple of times), but you still root for him. Cooper is so damn likable in this movie, even when he’s saying “inappropriate” things, like bluntly asking Tiffany when they first meet how her husband died. It’s cringy, but also weirdly endearing.
While we don’t see much of Tiffany’s family beyond her controlling, icy sister Veronica (Julia Stiles) and a brief moment or two with her irritable parents, we get a very intimate look at Pat’s dysfunctional clan. His father Patrizio wants to open a restaurant and has turned to illegal bookmaking to make it a reality. De Niro is fantastic here, exasperating, but sympathetic, even when he’s unfairly blaming his son after a catastrophic Eagles loss. It’s clear Patrizio suffers from (probably undiagnosed) OCD, which often puts him in conflict with Pat, but there is affection between father and son as well. The scenes between De Niro and Cooper are some of my favorite in the movie. Jacki Weaver is also wonderful in an emotionally nuanced role as Dolores, the long-suffering wife, and mother. She is really the only voice of reason in this entire movie, but it’s often lost in the mania surrounding the rest of her family.
The entire cast shines in this movie. It’s extremely well-acted, and it doesn’t seem to matter who is on screen at any given moment, you feel a familiarity and believability there that these people have been friends and family their entire lives. One thing I also appreciated about the movie is the romance did not feel forced or even idyllic. Tiffany and Pat are two imperfect people fighting their own personal demons, and yet it’s those demons that draw them together in the first place. It’s messy and complicated, but they’re exactly what the other needs.
The downside to the film is that while it tackles the subject of mental illness, it never really goes full throttle and instead loses steam once Tiffany and Pat begin their dance rehearsals. Obviously, Silver Linings Playbook wasn’t meant to be a movie about mental illness, but it certainly played a significant role at the beginning of the movie as Pat tries to adjust to being back home after settling into a routine at the psychiatric hospital. I suppose it’s easy to see how one can benefit from hope and the promise of a happy future, but a part of me feels like Pat and Tiffany’s personal problems were swept under the rug a bit to focus more on their budding romance.
That being said, I found Silver Linings Playbook to be edgy and captivating. Well-paced and well-acted with marvelous performances by Lawrence and Cooper. Not a typical rom-com by any means (psst, this is totally a rom-com), but that’s what makes it so darn good.