Rewriting the romantic comedy playbook.
With a near two-decade long career of critically acclaimed, but quietly released films, David O. Russell was regrettably little known within the UK. That was until the American director created what many regard as his most significant film, The Fighter. The compelling character study embedded within that biographical sports drama gripped audiences and increased Russell’s audience and popularity. So, expectations were high for his follow up film, an adaptation of Matthew Quick’s novel Silver Linings Playbook.
Written and directed by Russell, Silver Linings Playbook follows Pat, a former history teacher, who is diagnosed with bipolar disorder after a violent outburst when he discovers his wife’s infidelity first hand. Having spent several months in a mental institution Pat is released into his parents’ care and seeks to get his life back, rebuild bridges with his family and reconcile with his wife. However, he soon encounters a new challenge in the form of Tiffany, an attractive young widow who is experiencing similar issues.
The narrative focuses on the dysfunctional but sweet relationship between these two complex characters. Both Pat and Tiffany are recovering from individual traumas, but are uniquely connected by the similarity of their tragic marital experiences.
This charming romance provides the foundation for Russell’s central motive; to go some way to removing the stigma from mental illness. His depiction of mental illness is powered by his personal experiences; his eighteen year old son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The result is a carefully constructed and impressively realistic portrayal of a complex illness that is so frequently misinterpreted.
Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper thrive in the central roles, with each providing their career-best performances. Individually they match the director’s ambition to create real and unique characters while also treating mental illness in a sympathetic (but never overly-sentimental) manner. But, they also share an electrifying chemistry. Their disciplined performances express a colossal emotional range which makes every one of their explosive, passionate and funny interactions uniquely memorable.
In addition to its exceptional leads, Silver Linings Playbook benefits from a talented support cast. Robert De Niro, who has regrettably spent a decade in caricature, returns to the excellence of performances from yesteryear with an emotionally-charged performance as Pat’s equally flawed father. Jackie Weaver is stunning as the doting mother desperate to keep her family together while managing the explosive personalities around her. Even Chris Tucker, with only limited screentime, delivers a brilliantly comic performance and his sporadic interruptions punctuate the narrative perfectly. Russell balances each member of his cast and their eccentric characters superbly, and only uses them when necessary.
Like the director himself, Silver Linings Playbook is a product of Sundance development. And like many of Sundance’s popular festival films, it’s gloriously real, darkly comic and heart-warming. Russell’s film is full of creativity and easy on the romance clichés. In attempting to remove the stigma from mental illness, Russell also succeeds in removing the stigma from what many had believed to be a stale and tired genre.