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Dysfunctional families and relationships often make for the best sources of comedy. The moment you realize that an argument with a parent or your girlfriend over something, and what led up to that, can be funny, you have the launching point for a comedy. Silver Linings Playbook is born from this idea, fleshing out the story with even more outrageous details and executing it to perfection.
The quirky romantic comedy from The Fighter director David O. Russell isn't just the funniest movie I have seen this year, but it's also the best acted and scripted film I've seen. It captures dysfunctional characters, played by fantastic actors and manages to avoid cliched turns at every corner. This isn't your standard romantic comedy, since most of the lead characters in those films rarely have a bipolar disorder.
Based on Matthew Quick's 2008 novel, Silver Linings Playbook centers on Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), a man dealing with bipolar disorder that has just been released from the hospital after eight months. He was sent there after exploding at his wife, who he found cheating on him with another teacher. Pat comes home to his father, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro), an OCD bookie and devoted Philadelphia Eagles fan. His mother, Dolores (Jacki Weaver), is often trying to keep the peace and calm Pat down. Pat is convinced that even though there's a restraining order, he can still reunite with his wife, Nikki (Brea Bee).
In the meantime, he decides to have dinner with a friend, who introduces him to his sister-in-law, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). Her husband, a police officer, was just killed and she has her own problems. She's been fired for sleeping with everyone at the office and has really poor social skills (according to Pat). Tiffany and her sister know Nikki, so Pat tries to get Tiffany to give Nikki a letter. She'll only do that if she agrees to help her win a dance competition.
It is quite stunning what Jennifer Lawrence can do as an actress, completely creating one of the most unique characters to grace the screen this year. Her Tiffany is overflowing with emotions and manages to easily get the best lines in the film. She and Bradley Cooper have an amazing chemistry right off the bat and it shows during that amazing dinner scene at the beginning of the film. The buzz she has been receiving has been justified and this is probably her Oscar to lose.
Don't forget about Cooper, though. After all, it really is his film and he runs with it. This is not the Hangover Cooper, where he played for obvious laughs. His Pat is the opposite of Tiffany, as he tries his hardest to do what's best for himself and his parents. Cooper shows amazing range with this performance, handling the film's most dramatic moments as well as the comedy.
There's also a fine supporting cast, with Robert De Niro, Chris Tucker, Julia Styles and Anupam Kher (who plays Cooper's doctor) proving that this isn't just the Cooper/Lawrence show.
The script is tight, working well in the two-hour running time. It's amazing how Russell balances the complicated lives of Tiffany, Pat and Pat Sr. Some of the film's funniest scenes are between Cooper and De Niro (who finally gives that long-awaited great performance after years of bad choices), since Pat Sr. is really the third lead character in this film. It's his gambling, OCD and his banishment from Eagles games that ultimately propel the story to its climax.
If there is one moment that stands out in the film for me it is the montage showing Tiffany and Pat getting comfortable dancing together, set to Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash's “Girl from the North Country” duet. Masanobu Takayanagi's camera is fluid, capturing their movements in a way few other dance scenes are handled.
Silver Linings Playbook really is that rare romantic comedy that manages to do well by keeping off the beaten track. Hopefully the film gets a wider release soon, since everyone could use a silver lining around now.
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