Pat Solitano’s had a hard time seeing the good things in life.
Granted, he’s had a pretty tough year. Subject to violent mood swings, he’s spent the last eight months in a mental hospital after nearly beating to death the co-worker who was having an affair with his wife.
Now he’s out – but he’s also jobless, wifeless and living with his parents.
But months of therapy have outfitted him with a new outlook – trying to find the silver linings to life’s clouds. Toward that end, he’s getting in shape, seeking help for his diagnosed bipolar disorder and learning how to reconnect with his family through their mutual love of Philadelphia Eagles football.
But most importantly, Pat’s trying to reconnect with his wife, Nikki – which might prove a little difficult, separated as they are by a gulf of hurt and a restraining order.
Then he meets Tiffany. Already a widow in her early twenties, Tiffany’s been looking for love in all the wrong places. From their first meeting, Pat and Tiffany are both repulsed and attracted by their mutual lack of social graces, but they eventually bond over their common brokenness.
But there’s something else connecting them: Tiffany is friends with Nikki, so Pat sees her as a way of circumventing the restraining order to win back his wife. Thus begins a symbiotic relationship that blurs the lines of who’s helping whom.
Despite the extremities of the story, there’s something immanently real about “Silver Linings Playbook.” Pat and Tiffany are real people, battered and bruised by the world the way real people are and reacting in more or less realistic ways.
As Pat Solitano, Bradley Cooper is a pleasant surprise. With his natural style and leading-man looks, he’s shown himself more than capable of carrying a movie. But Pat’s not your typical leading man. He’s got some issues to work through that can’t be resolved in two hours on the screen. But Cooper manages to make Pat a sympathetic underdog, though one with nearly as much bite as bark.
But Jennifer Lawrence steals every scene as Tiffany. Still riding high on the fame wave from the first “Hunger Games” movie, Lawrence has a talent for playing tough, emotionally distant characters with just enough vulnerability to make them likable. In this role, you can see shades of the raw strength of Katniss Everdeen and Ree Dolly (Lawrence’s roles in “The Hunger Games” and “Winter’s Bone,” respectively), but Tiffany’s her own woman.
As Tiffany says at one point, there will always be parts of her that are messed up, but she likes that. And while we recognize that sometimes there are aspects of our character that need changing for the better, it’s an important lesson in self-acceptance.
And it’s a testament to Lawrence’s skill that she can take Tiffany’s eccentricities and make her neither too abrasive nor too precious.
Supporting characters are just as strongly written and acted, particularly Pat’s parents, played by Jacki Weaver and Robert De Niro. Weaver’s the compassionate, sane center of the dysfunctional Solitano family, and De Niro plays a version of his tough-as-nails self with a surprisingly emotional touch.
Viewers should be warned that this film definitely earns its R rating through gritty language. But the realism of the story and the characters makes the profanity necessary and mostly unobtrusive.
Nominated for eight Academy Awards (including acting nods to Cooper, Lawrence, Weaver and De Niro, plus Best Picture and Director) “Silver Linings Playbook” has many of the elements of your typical modern romantic comedy: flawed hero and heroine, an unlikely match, a set of hurdles obstructing their happiness. But where this film succeeds – and so many others fail – is that it doesn’t try to provide easy answers to life’s hard questions.
It doesn’t assume that relationships can make everything all right. And it doesn’t shy away from the ugly side of life, or of people. But despite their flaws, you want these characters to succeed; you want them to be happy – because if they can find life’s silver linings, chances are anyone can.