I actually saw Silver Linings Playbook a few weeks back, but for one reason or another, I never got around to writing a review for it (happened with Argo and Life of Pi too). But now that it’s been nominated for nearly every Oscar that matters (Picture, Actor, Actress and both Supportings), I should probably discuss it a bit.
There usually tends to be at least one romantic comedy a year that breaks out of the box of the genre to be a truly worthwhile film. Sometimes, these become some of my favorite films of the year, or some of my favorite films ever, depending on what the case may be. I would include movies like 500 Days of Summer, Once and Love Actually in that category.
I’m not sure that Silver Linings qualifies for me, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a pretty great film full of rather incredible performances. But why are they Oscar nominated?
Well, the cynical answer would be that nearly all the characters have some sort of psychological or emotional disorder. The Oscars tend to reward such performances, and so here we are, with three out of the four acting nominations going to characters in the film that do indeed have these problems in some form or another.
But in reality, it’s deserved. These really are fantastic performances from these actors, some of which we didn’t think had it in them. Chief among them is Bradley Cooper who has gone from The Hangover to The A-Team to this, serious acting business. In the film he’s Pat, a man recently released from a mental institution on a quest to get his life back together and win back the affections of his now-absent wife, Nikki.
He moves back in with his parents, Pat Sr. and Dolores (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver), and we soon learn the full extent of his emotional problems. He’s either bipolar or manic depressive, it’s hard to tell, up one minute and crashing down the next. He’s also prone to violent outbursts the boil over when he’s under duress, which is frequently.
He finds a mortal enemy/kindred spirit in the form of Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), another emotionally disturbed individual with a missing spouse. Her husband died, however, and in her grief proceeded to sleep with a dozen people in her office and forever be branded the town slut.
The film focuses on the budding relationship between her and Pat, which is far from a typical movie romance. Rather, the two are constantly at each other’s throats, and only start to connect when Tiffany convinces Pat that a way to impress his wife, Nikki, will be to help Tiffany perform a dance number at an upcoming competition. Odd, but it works for the story.
Pat also has to contend with his father who uses him almost obsessively as a talisman to bring the Eagles good luck, which helps him make money as a bookie. His superstition about Pat’s role in helping the Eagles win games borders on being devoutly religious, and it’s easy to see how Pat’s problems could have manifested in such an environment. As Pat Sr, this the first time Robert De Niro actually seems like he’s putting effort into a role in years, which I suppose is enough to warrant him a nomination in the eyes of the Academy.
Pat and Tiffany are equally complex characters played masterfully by their actors. Lawrence reminds us that before she was given nothing to do in The Hunger Games, she wowed us in Winter’s Bone, and proves she has a great future ahead of her. I see a bit of Kate Winslett in her, actually, as the young “everywoman.”
As for Cooper? He likely won’t get the statue (Daniel Day Lewis is an Oscar machine), but it’s truly impressive how devoted he is to rendering all the fine details of mental illness. It goes above and beyond what many thought possible of the actors, and shows that he’s definitely worthy of being taken seriously. The fact that he was passed over for Green Lantern and cast in something like this might be an omen from the gods that his career is now moving in the right direction.
It’s an uncomfortable film that eventually ends up being very charming by the end. It’s a new look at mental illness outside the walls of the asylum, and the actors involved do a phenomenal job convincing us their anguish and joy is real. It’s not to be dismissed as just another rom-com, nor as pandering Oscar bait. It’s a good film that nearly anyone can enjoy, and I have no problem seeing it honored as such.
4.5 out of 5 stars