Watching David O’Russell’s latest film is almost like watching a football game. Seeing it in the jam-packed Egyptian Theater at AFI fest, the crowd cheered, booed and even shed some tears. Was this metaphor intentional? Perhaps. The film centers on an Eagles-obsessed football family after all.
I was surprised. That seemed to be the common consensus among fellow AFI attendees. At a screening for another film, I sat next to a stranger and we both agreed: we didn’t know it would be so funny. O’Russell’s decision to cast Bradley Cooper was a smart one.
The film centers on Pat Solitano (Cooper) who has just been released from an 8-month stint in rehab. We slowly discover what sent him there in the first place. Being cheated on and having a bad temper don’t mix well. Now he’s back home to his mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver) and father Pat Sr. (Robert DeNiro). Immediately his return creates an unstable environment.
He’s set on getting his ex-wife Nikki (Brea Bree) back (the cheater). He’s convinced that his new body, positive outlook on life and dedication to improve will win her heart back. Forget the fact that he beat the man she was cheating with nearly to death. Pat’s family and friends wish him well, but they see his dreams are skewed.
To welcome Pat home, his best friend (John Ortiz) invites him over for dinner with his wife Veronica (Julia Stiles). When Veronica’s sister walks into the room, Pat is entranced. Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) illuminates heartbreak and her guarded melancholy nature enchants Pat. He’s hooked (even if he’s not fully aware of it). After a discussion about the different types of depression meds they’ve tried, which is uproarious, Tiffany asks Pat to walk her home. And there the affair begins.
Except it’s not your typical affair. Their relationship is initially extremely parasitic. Pat wants Tiffany to give Nikki a letter he wrote, while Tiffany demands Pat then join her in a dance competition. They both enter into the friendship knowing they’re receiving a tangible payoff. What they don’t know is that their bond will strengthen through their similar emotional circumstances.
Meanwhile Pat’s father is dealing with his own issues. Pat’s obsession with Nikki and increasing interest in the dance competition is creating a problem. The Eagle’s “ju ju” is off. Pat is a huge Eagles fan. That’s an understatement. It’s his way of life. Every game he begs his son to sit with him, hold his Eagles handkerchief and bring them his good luck. But Pat doesn’t pay attention his father’s efforts. Pat Sr. clearly just wants to spend time with his son.
O’Russell is a master of exploring family dynamics and Silver Linings Playbook is no exception. I sat down expecting to see a dramatic film, similar to The Fighter, but I saw a comedy. The tone was reminiscent of I Heart Huckabees in its ability to find laughs within pain. Cooper delivers a performance charming in its honesty. He’s a man that’s still a boy and his naivety is both intricately destructive and incredibly buoyant. And Lawrence? She’s a force of nature. She disappears into Tiffany and becomes a wounded widow while also a smart, sassy, volatile young woman. When Cooper and Lawrence are together, the film is kinetic.
Before the film premiered, Cooper came out to say a few words. He said he owed thanks to DeNiro for suggesting his name to O’Russell. From the beginning, it’s obvious the cast was a family. This chemistry, between both cast and director, is what makes the film. It’s hilarious, undeniably relatable and…can I say it…. it’s a feel-good movie. No one ever said you had to be depressing to be brilliant.