Silver Linings Playbook
~ A FILM BY DAVID O. RUSSELL ~

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Silver Linings Playbook is a movie directed by David O. Russell. It was released on Christmas Day, 2012, and stars Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Jacki Weaver and Robert de Niro, in the first of the (thus far) unrelated four films co-starring Lawrence and Cooper: the others being American Hustle (2013), Serena (2014) and Joy (2015), with only Serena not directed by Russell. It tells the story of Pat (Cooper), a wildly impulsive man suffering from bipolar disorder who has spent some time in a mental institution, and Tiffany (Lawrence), the young widow of a slain police officer, who is just as impulsive as Pat but in different ways. The tight, slick plot starts with these two characters being at odds, and gradually learning to tolerate each other at first, to friendship, to romance in the end, all through a series of trials and tribulations (mostly self-inflicted) in which Pat attempts to better himself, although for the most part, he lacks insight into his condition until nearly the last minute. Tiffany, who is only about 21 but is already a widow after her husband is killed in the line of duty, also has some mental issues going on—she's depressed, lonely and, in the recent past, has a history of nymphomania (before the events in the story).


Pat: This is what I learned at the hospital: you have to do everything you can. You have to work your hardest, and if you do, if you stay positive, you have a shot at a silver lining.


PLOT SUMMARY

The film opens with Pat sitting in his room at a mental hospital, repeating self-improvement mantras to himself, when he is interrupted by the staff giving him his meds—which he covertly spits out after the staff is out of view. As it turns out, this is Pat's last day in treatment after eight months inpatient, following an incident in which he caught his wife cheating on him with a co-worker. He beats the co-worker unconscious, ends up estranged from his wife Nikki (Brea Bee), but is determined to win her back, despite the fact that she wants nothing to do with him, and facing nearly a year inpatient for his actions. Upon his discharge from the hospital, he moves back in with his parents, Dolores (Jacki Weaver) and Pat Sr. (Robert de Niro). Bored and in a manic phase, he takes to reading all the books his ex-wife recommended to him over the years, waking his parents in the middle of the night to complain about the ending of an Ernest Hemingway novel which culminates in a mild fist fight between Pat and his dad, who has come to expect this kind of behavior from his son. To get out of the house, Pat takes up jogging. Determined to lose weight, even though he is in pretty good shape, he fashions a sweatbox-style pullover from a trash bag so he can sweat more and, presumably, lose more weight.

Pat has only a few friends, and two of them, Ronnie (John Ortiz) and his wife Veronica (Julia Stiles), invite him over for dinner one night. There, he meets Veronica's younger sister Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). The two develop an odd friendship centered around both their shared mental conditions and, in a twist, so that Tiffany can deliver letters written by Pat to Nikki. At first, Pat is hesitant to have anything to do with Tiffany, based on the rumors of her promiscuity and that he's (in his head, anyway) obsessed with getting Nikki back. He cannot see that it's a lost cause. Tiffany can see that it's a lost cause, as she also knows Nikki, but she plays along with Pat's fantasy of getting her back. However, she doesn't end up delivering any of his letters to her, instead using them as a ploy to spend time with Pat. In exchange for "delivering" his letters to Nikki, Pat agrees to be Tiffany's partner at an upcoming ballroom dancing event in Philadelphia. They begin training in Tiffany's home dance studio.

Things seem to be picking up for Pat. His father, like him, is an enthusiastic fan of the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles, and is also a bookie (shh!) who has some unresolved issues with obsessive/compulsive disorder, asks Pat to attend an upcoming Eagles game as his good luck charm. Pat, in another manic phase, goes to the game but never makes it into the stadium, as he gets into a spur-of-the-moment fight in the parking lot while tailgating before the game. He's hauled away by police and released some hours later. His very superstitious father is furious because he thinks Pat not attending the game ruined the Eagles' chance at a win; typical behavior for superstitious people. At this pivotal point in the movie, Tiffany appears at Pat's parents' house. Pat Sr. had extreme reservations about his son associating with her due to the rumors surrounding her, but she stands up to both Pat and Pat Sr., meticulously detailing, despite her hatred of sports, various sporting events that Pat Sr. had money riding on, relaying the scores and indicating that every game that occurred on a day where she and Pat were together, all the Philadelphia teams Pat Sr. follows had won. Further, Pat's motto, "Excelsior", which he picked up in treatment, is brought up by Tiffany and explained that it's the state motto of New York—the Eagles' arch-nemesis, then questions why Pat Sr. would send Pat to any games in light of these revelations. Pat Sr. is stunned at all this but accepts it as an important fact, realizing that his son is not really any kind of good luck charm. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Pat Sr. and a bookie colleague of his wish to put this to the test, so they grudgingly arrange a sizable bet, double or nothing, on the upcoming Eagles/Cowboys game, with an included parlay that stipulates that for Pat Sr. to win the bet, Pat and Tiffany must also score a minimum of 5.0 in the ballroom dancing competition. Pat doesn't like any of this at all, but is persuaded to go along with it because Nikki will be at the dance event to see how he's doing. Tiffany despairs at this, but there's no stopping now.

Game day comes along and the Eagles unexpectedly beat the Cowboys at the last minute. Immediately after the game ends, the dance contest begins. The other competitors are professionals, with custom dance costumes and well-practiced performances. Tiffany, distressed at the prospect of losing Pat to Nikki and at the likelihood that they won't score a 5.0, parks herself in the hotel bar and beings drinking. As their names are called, Pat has to find Tiffany and get her to the event floor.

Pat and Tiffany perform to the utmost of their abilities, which are admittedly amateurish. All the judges score their performance with sub-5.0 scores, except for one judge, who gives them an outlandish 5.8, bringing the average score of all the judges to an even 5.0. Pat Sr. has won his bet and parlay, but not everybody is happy.

After briefly celebrating their win, Pat spots Nikki in the crowd and walks over to talk to her. We see, from Tiffany's perspective, Pat whisper a few sentences in Nikki's ear. This prompts Tiffany to run outside in tears, convinced that this was all a waste that was paid for with her feelings.

At this point it becomes evident that Pat knew that his blossoming friendship with Tiffany was something special. He follows her outside and, after a brief foot chase, hands her another letter. She thinks it's meant for delivery to Nikki, but Pat asks her to open it and read it herself. In it, Pat reveals that he knew all along Tiffany wasn't giving Nikki the letters and that the responses to them had been forged by Tiffany. The letter he's just given Tiffany is intended for her and outlines just how Pat feels about her. He admits that he loves her and had loved her since their first meeting, and apologizes for taking so long to come to this realization. They then kiss passionately.


Tiffany: You let me lie to you for a week?
Pat: I was trying to be romantic. *smiles*


Flash forward a few months and we see the principal cast at Pat's parents' house. Tiffany and Pat are no longer wearing their wedding rings from their previous marriages; it is evident that they have become a happy couple. We also see some indication that Pat Sr. is learning to deal with his OCD and we learn that he has opened a restaurant with the money he won from the parlay. The movie ends here on a very positive note.

Silver Linings Playbook is a wonderful date movie, a relevant piece on the importance of optimism and a believable portrayal of bipolar disorder, something a bit lacking in Hollywood movies. It's a story about a number of crazy people who are indeed crazy but in a way that I think many people could empathize with.


Silver Linings Playbook was nominated for eight Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actor (Bradley Cooper), Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence), Best Supporting Actor (Robert de Niro), Best Supporting Actress (Jacki Weaver), Best Director (David O. Russell), Best Adapted Screenplay (Russell again) and Best Film Editing (Jay Cassidy and Crispin Struthers). Of these, Jennifer Lawrence won Best Actress. She also won the same award at the 2013 Golden Globes.

While Jennifer Lawrence had been in a few big-budget movies before Silver Linings Playbook (Winter's Bone and X-Men: First Class being the most notable), she became an A-list Hollywood star after winning the Best Actress Oscar. She has, at the time of writing and for the past couple of years, been (rightly) considered America's sweetheart. Everybody loves Jen, and if her career continues on its current trajectory, she'll have her choice of roles for the next several decades.

Though Bradley Cooper did not win any major acting awards for his performance for Silver Linings Playbook, it brought him to a much larger audience than he'd previously enjoyed and he's now one of the most sought-after actors in Hollywood.

The late Roger Ebert loved this movie and I believe not a single award nomination was wasted on this film or its actors. This is extraordinary film-making. And it's an extraordinary film. It's one of my favorites, but then, also counted among my favorites are Stardust (2007) and Haywire (2011), both of which were barely regarded when they were released. So perhaps my taste in movies is a bit skewed, but I think we can all agree that Silver Linings Playbook is a wonderful film that should not be missed.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ out of ★ ★ ★ ★.


Sources:

IMDB
WP
Bechdel Test results: pass

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