In Silver Linings Playbook, there's a scar above Bradley Cooper's nose that I found myself focusing on throughout the entire movie. It's not like Harrison Ford's chin-scar that has followed him around from movie to movie; this one is just a line-scab that never seems to heal and I found that apt—the movie's all about a guy, Pat Solatano, Jr., whose lost everything and wants to get it back, despite that losing it might have been the best thing that ever happened to him. He's undiagnosed bi-polar, but he keeps wanting to return to the halcyon days when he didn't know he was bi-polar and was married to Nikki (Brea Bee), a schoolteacher, and was living a fairly normal life, or as normal as bi-polar can be, undiagnosed or not.
When he gets out of the Baltimore Psychiatric Hospital, he's focused on getting his old life back—he's whipped himself into shape, goes (reluctantly) to a therapist, stays on (reluctantly) his meds, and is determined to make himself the man Nikki wants him to be—there's just that little thing about the restraining order and the fact that he caught her having sex with a school administrator. And that he caught them making love to their wedding song which was Stevie Wonder's "My Cherie Amour," which sends him into an "episode" every time he hears it. And there's that focus issue. He's not kidding himself anymore, but his constant stream of truthiness, socially correct or not, keeps getting him into trouble, with his folks (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver), his brother (Shea Whigham), his pal Ronnie (John Ortiz) and Ronnie's wife Veronica (Julia Stiles)—who just happens to still be friends with Nikki. Pat, Jr. latches on to them to try and make contact with his ex, and to do so agrees to have dinner with them. Also invited is Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), Veronica's sister, who has issues of her own, still grieving from the death of her policeman-husband.
Pat and Tiffany do NOT get along at dinner, and only connect over their mutual history with anti-depressants. That seems to be enough for Tiffany, as she announces she's had enough family time and asks Pat to walk her home. They share enough information there for Tiffany to be repulsed by Pat, and for Pat to think Tiffany is crazy.
But, then, Pat thinks everybody is crazy (except for himself).
And...he might be right (except for the last part). He's very quick to point out the eccentricities in others, probably because he possesses those traits himself. He notes his Dad's OCD—he goes through rituals while watching each Philadelphia Eagles game, as he's taken to book-making since losing his job, and has a sports fanatics' passion for football (and probably more so as he's been banned for life from the stadium). In Pat's mind, everybody is dysfunctional, because Pat's mind is dysfunctional. While reading the books on Kiki's syllabus, he tosses "A Farewell to Arms" through his attic window for its downer ending. And his own obsession with his ex-wife becomes a means towards an end for Tiffany when she offers to sneak a letter to Nikki for him—if he'll be her partner in a dance competition.
The director is David O. Russell, who also adapted the book (by Matthew Quick) and did a brilliant job cataloging family feuds in The Fighter. Family seems to be his forte, mining the mania for subtle comedy while not diminishing the seriousness of the hysteria bubbling under the surface. And Russell imposes enough energy in his direction and editing that he invigorates the already simmering outbursts the performers put into it. De Niro we already know can pull a manic act for both comedy and drama and Wilkins manages to keep a look for fret even when happy. The ones who surprise are Lawrence, who's cute as a button and volatile as a cougar in a surprising performance, and Cooper who has a crazy flame in his eyes throughout. His outbursts never surprise; it's his semi-even keel that is interesting to watch, and worry about.*
Yes, they're crazy. But, in Russell's world-scheme, everybody is in the U.S. of OCD, whether the obsession is sports, gambling, love, and competition. And Russell does a nice job of turning the dark side of rom-coms before the camera, and making decided call-backs to the past for his ending. Despite our relationships with the past and flirtations with the future, hope still vaults eternal in the perpetual grasping for something better, in the hope of no longer clinging to what was.
One suspects, after the movie is over, that that tell-tale scar will start to disappear.
Silver Linings Playbook is a solid Matinee.
Congratulations to long-time readers "Walaka" and "Otis" on their engagement!
* In the same scheme of things, Russell has cast Chris Tucker as one of Pat's fellow hospital incarcerees. It's the best performance Tucker has ever given, subtle, scary and controlled. Anybody who's seen his other work, knows what he's capable of and the effect here is like watching Jerry Lewis do drama, but without the self-awareness and ego.