By Joan Ellis
The comically dysfunctional family in Silver Linings Playbook has no villains, and that happy circumstance leaves us free to enjoy the dysfunction.
Within seconds of the opening, we watch a determined mother retrieve her son Patrick from a psychiatric facility in Baltimore where he has been confined for treatment of his bipolar extremes. She is taking him home where she knows he belongs.
In this case, home is where the chaos is. The Solatano family is together again. Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) is a bookmaker whose gambling obsession is the NFL. Dolores (Jacki Weaver) is the mom who knows, no matter what, what’s best for her son. Pat (Bradley Cooper) is a former teacher and husband who went ballistic when his wife cheated on him. That led to her restraining order and his incarceration. Pat, who has no idea how to filter what he says to others, believes that every “normal” person is suppressing problems while he is just being open about his own. But his swings from high to low and back again run to violence.
Inevitably in this movie by the quirky and thoroughly gifted writer/director David O. Russell, Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) who introduces herself as “a slut. I’ve slept with everyone in town.”
“Everyone?” Pat asks.
“Everyone,” she replies. And so the core of the movie is born: It’s Pat and Tiffany who understand each other intuitively through the fog of their own afflictions. They operate on some enviable plain of understanding that is nearly unintelligible to others. The others are simply invisible to them.
Pat is convinced he can win his wife back; Tiffany badly needs a partner for a project she has undertaken. They negotiate a deal in the odd world of their disorders and – well, we all know where this is going. Plot twists aren’t important here. The fun lies in the facial expressions and details delivered by a cast in perfect tune with the irony and dysfunction of who they are as individuals and as a family. The whole gang, each in his own way, is nuts.
It’s settled truth immediately that Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper can and will carry the story with eccentric help from Robert De Niro’s failed and unfashionable bookkeeper. We smile at mom, Jackie Weaver, as she stays quiet except when her son’s welfare is threatened, and then, watch out. The movie builds to a resolution of considerable comic drama involving a Philadelphia Eagles game and a dance contest that demands comic input from the oddballs created by a group of actors skilled in wackiness.
The takeaway from this movie will probably be that Bradley Cooper is morphing into an accomplished comedian and that Jennifer Lawrence can handle anything she’s asked to do. She’s a chameleon with a solid core of authenticity. The Hunger Games soared on her shoulders and whatever success Silver Linings has will be a result of her ability to be a lovable screwball.
Joan Ellis’ address on the Internet, which contains her review library, is JoanEllis.com.