Silver Linings Playbook is one of those films, by turns entertaining and artistically juicy and frustratingly glib, with an unresolved personality problem. It’s your not-so-basic serio-comic romp with dark underpinnings and a way of tripping itself up as it goes. What can you expect with a protagonist role going to Bradley Cooper, who has thus far had a hard time shaking his typecasting badge as a relatively handsome wild ‘n’ crazy guy in the The Hangover movies?
Although he digs deeper and goes broader than usual this time around, Cooper’s wild/crazy aspect returns in a sometimes questionable plot about a wayward semi-antihero named Pat, who struggles with a bipolar condition. Pat has been released from a stint in the mental hospital and is bent on winning back his cheating wife — the detonator for his explosive episode in the first place. Jogging with a Hefty bag as outerwear, and generally deluding himself back to normality, he clings to inward self-healing mechanisms, fixated on the idea that “if you stay positive, you have a shot at a silver lining.” Along comes a distracting new love interest, also familiar with the properties of mood-altering meds, in the form of the recently widowed and restless young Tiffany, played by Jennifer Lawrence (in a very different, edgier role than her stint in Hunger Games).
Writer/director David O. Russell is no stranger to films of ambitious moves in multiple directions, especially his quirky jewel I ♥ Huckabees. With his latest, Russell operates in a shifting middle ground between the lanky, satirical family dynamics of Huckabees and the gritty veracity of his last film, The Fighter. Filmic treats keep popping up, including a refreshingly different narrative voice early in the movie. Suddenly, there is Robert De Niro in a rare decent and non-smarmy role, as a football-obsessive father whose own personality traits beg the question of what constitutes instability in a world gone crazy.
At its best, Silver Linings Playbook has moments reminiscent of the odd admix of Little Miss Sunshine, in which roughness around the edges meets warm and cozy nougat at the center. If only it got to that magic balance more often.