Have I ever told you how much I love it when a great, heartfelt comedy makes it into the Best Picture nominations? Of the year’s nine nominations, Silver Linings Playbook is the most lighthearted film and it leaves you smiling and warm inside. Best of all, it feels like it did so effortlessly. Over the past 20 years, I can count the comedies nominated for best picture that made me feel this good on one hand: As Good As It Gets, Little Miss Sunshine and Juno. I love adding another rare treat to that list.
Bradley Cooper plays Pat, a man trying to reinvent himself after being diagnosed and institutionalized with bipolar disorder. This time away has separated him from his wife. The details connecting the status of his marriage and his time the mental institute are revealed perfectly, so I won’t spoil the ride. His institutionalization seems to have been well for him, he has gotten in shape and is enthusiastic about the positive attitude he is trying to maintain. It is awkwardly endearing how he is so eager to tell everyone his excelsior motto and how he is practicing to be a better husband. You know that nearly everyone sees him as a huge loser.
While Pat’s family sees that he is doing better, there is still room for improvement. He refuses to take his medications, claiming to not like how he feels on them, and it’s not easy for an aging couple to force their grown son to do anything. His social skills are lacking, sometimes Pat seems to blurt things out with no filter. His late night rantings, from being upset over the ending of a A Farewell to Arms, to feeling the urgent need to watch his wedding video, become a disturbance heard all down the street.
Through a friend, Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), whose husband recently died. While Pat’s poor social skills stem from his mental issues, Tiffany’s may come from a mixture of grief and just not having much to care about anymore. Her instigative scenes with Pat are beautifully raw while still keeping everyone at a distance. Lawrence has a sweet way of making Tiffany rudely real, vulnerable yet strong and one of the most level headed characters in the film. She and Pat strike up a friendship and a deal: Tiffany will deliver letters to Pat’s wife if he will enter a dance competition with her.
I didn’t expect this to be a dance movie, and it isn’t, but watching Cooper and Lawrence move together is wonderful. As they practice, we are watching an unspoken bond form. It becomes a big release for them both, better than their therapy sessions. Romantics will hope for love to bloom, and us realists will just be happy that Pat is sleeping well at night and not bringing up his wife as much.
Pat’s family is loving and supportive, but beautifully flawed. His father, Pat Sr. (Robert de Niro), seems obsessive compulsive about his rituals when watching sports. However, they come from good intentions; he just wants to spend time with his son, and seems to think of Pat as a good luck charm for the Philadelphia Eagles. He also has a short violent history that has him permanently banned from the Eagles’ stadium. Pat’s mother, Dolores (Jacki Weaver), is a sweet and supportive aging woman who seems to have spent most of her life dealing with the different bits of crazy coming from her husband and son. She is weathered from it, but also stronger, smarter and more understanding. What I couldn’t understand was how she lets her husband place such steep bets on football games and how he personally involves Pat in them. But what do I know, I’m just an outsider looking in.
Silver Linings Playbook is nominated for eight Academy Awards, and they are all the big ones too. Cooper, Lawrence, De Niro and Weaver are all nominated for their performances, earning the film a nomination in each acting category. The film has also earned recognition in best picture, editing, adapted screenplay and David O. Russell is competing for best director. That’s a lot of deserved recognition from a sweet modern dramatic comedy.
I loved Silver Linings Playbook for all that it was and wanted nothing more from it. There was a good dose of human comedy, some drama without harsh tears and a way to find happiness in this strange world. While Pat’s mental illness is the stem of his problems, the film doesn’t preach, objectify or or let it define his character. It is just part of this human experience. The big dance scene is a wonderful climax that I wouldn’t dare ruin for you, but it made me think back to Little Miss Sunshine in the best way possible. This is an unexpectedly honest and sweet film that, like its characters, doesn’t apologize for being a little off beat.
“I just see that you made an effort, and I’m gonna be better with my wife. I’m working on that. I wanna acknowledge her beauty. I never used to do that. I do now. Just practicing. How’d Tommy die?”