By RYAN O'LEARY Photography COURTESY OF SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK PINTEREST
People are broken.
Sibling rivalry, mental illness, gambling addiction, sexual perversions—they can all come to define us, as well as the relationships we come to foster. That’s ultimately what Silver Linings Playbook is about. Written and directed by David O. Russell, the film is very similar to his previous work The Fighter. They both center on warped family dynamics in blue-collar sports towns. Where The Fighter was hampered by a bland lead actor, Silver Linings Playbook thrives off of the compelling performances provided by its two lead characters.
The film mainly focuses upon the relationship between Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) and Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence). Both afflicted with mental illness, they turn out to be similarly troubled, complicated personalities.
Cooper is strikingly convincing in the role of Pat, displaying an energetic range of emotion that always feels real. He says more with a look in his eyes than most actors can convey with an entire performance. Even in scenes where Pat has complete control of himself—or, as much control as possible—there is always a sense that he could snap at any moment. One stray comment, one misheard statement, and he could erupt.
At one point in the film Pat tries to find his wedding tape. Not able to find it, he slowly loses control of himself and gets into fistfight with his irritable father (Robert De Niro).
De Niro displays a wide swath of emotions as Pat’s father, and it is refreshing to see him portray such a good role after many years of disappointment.
In contrast, Lawrence portrays Tiffany with a deadpan of sensibility. Tiffany, who is just as fragile and broken as Pat, was left traumatized after the loss of her husband. She rarely expresses her anger physically, instead lashing out at others verbally. This contrast between the two characters ends up actually deepening the film’s understanding of mental illness, and how it can affect an individual.
The actors alone are not single-handedly responsible for the compelling depictions of their respective characters. When dealing with mental illness, films often run into the trouble of allowing them to be the sole defining qualities of their characters. They’d merely be crazy, with nothing more than a disposition to batshit insanity. Characters rarely even come across human. Russell masterfully avoids this issue, by taking his time to depict Pat and Tiffany’s fragile state in a fair and thoughtful way. Their struggles, and therefore their families’ struggles, feel very sincere.
It is tempting to call Silver Linings Playbook a film about mental illness, but that is far too limiting. This is a film about the love people can find in one another, and the personal issues and grievances that too often get in the way. Not only is it messy, emotional, and twisted… but just like love, it’s all the better for it.