Silver Linings Playbook – ★★★★

In the last three years, Bradley Cooper has moved up the ladder to become one of Hollywood’s biggest stars though some of his performances have been rather average. However that all changes thanks to his latest role in David O. Russell’s gritty romantic dramedy Silver Linings Playbook which sees him work alongside a talented group of co-stars including hot young actress Jennifer Lawrence (fresh from her lead role in the box-office hit The Hunger Games) and cinematic legend Robert De Niro (hoping to reclaim his past greatness after a string of disappointing roles). Already being buzzed as a serious contender for the Oscars, the film has been advertised as a screwball romantic-comedy but upon watching it, you realise it’s far deeper than that. They don’t make ’em like they used to….

After spending eight months in a mental institution, Bi-polar sufferer Pat Soritano (Cooper) tries to get his life back on track but is held back by his parents Pat Senior (De Niro) who suffers from OCD and his long-suffering mother Dolores (Weaver). Despite his unstable condition, Pat attempts to think of ways to get back with his ex-wife who was the reason for his stint at the institution. But during a dinner party held by his friend Ronnie (John Ortiz), he is introduced to equally dysfunctional sister-in-law Tiffany (Lawrence) who has struggled to cope with her life following the death of her husband. Despite ridiculing each other about their mental states, the pair start to get along when Tiff offers to help Pat reunite with his ex but only on the condition that they participate in a dancing competition. But while he looks forward to a potential reunion with his ex, she grows deeper in love with him as an unlikely romance between them becomes a possibility.

A tendency with romantic comedies nowadays is that they usually involve some bad acting, sappiness and predictable moments which makes them come across as stale. But fortunately Silver Linings is (almost) the other way round as director David O. Russell is able to adapt the story from an acclaimed novel and turn it into a breath of fresh air. By doing so, it ends up being a crowd-pleaser in an gruelling way and for the most part, it isn’t the feel-good film you would expect after the first third of the story. After directing the Oscar-winning sports drama The Fighter (2010), O. Russell is able to return to the gritty streets of Philly and once again focus on a working-class family who use tough love to show their care for one another. Some of the best scenes in the film come from Pat’s relationship with his family and friends who all rally around him but at the same time try to prevent him from not going too overboard in his desperate attempts to reconcile with his ex. But once Tiffany arrives on-screen, the film becomes a battleground of mental conflict between the duo as they almost lose the plot completely with their emotional-charged outbursts but are then able to lighten things up by spouting sharp and, at times, random dialogue. Pat’s middle-of-the-night rant to his parents about Ernest Hemmingway’s book A Farewell to Arms is a prime example of that. But even when we get to the film’s climatic dancing contest, some would probably find the situation predictable but fortunately Russell prevents it from overshadowing the outcome for Pat and Tiff’s will-they-won’t-they relationship. Those who disliked Bradley Cooper in the past will surely forgive him as he produces his best performance yet as a man desperate to change his life around but is held back by his tortured mental state. Just as immense, if not better is his young female co-star Jennifer Lawrence who shows maturity and restraint as the quirky but complicated widow which allows her to avoid the ‘Everdeen Katniss’ tag and enable her to continue rising as one of Hollywood’s best young actresses. While the age gap between her and Cooper seems a problem, they manage to make their onscreen chemistry believable which will hopefully see their performances recognised by the Academy. At the moment, Lawrence is currently the favourite to take the Best Actress award. But both leads gain valuable back-up from an experienced support cast spearheaded by a stunning comeback from Robert De Niro as he silences his doubters with a spirited and complex role as the OCD suffering father who struggles to connect with his equally loopy son. Jacki Weaver is also subtle as the woman caught in the middle between the two men she cares about while the usually-irritating Chris Tucker manages to tone down and add some fun to his character in a rare role away from the Rush Hour films. John Ortiz, Julia Stiles and Boardwalk Empire’s Shea Whigham round off the versatile ensemble.

The only predictable thing about the film (and its book) is the additional sub-plot involving Pat Senior and his American Football betting rivalry with pal Randy. While we have the dancing contest being the key decider for Pat Junior and Tiffany’s relationship, the ‘big game’ cliche threatens to make the film too overly-sentimental which is fine for one based on a true story like Argo but here it screams ‘overkill’. The fact that we only hear flashes of Senior’s restaurant plans doesn’t make us emotionally invested in that storyline compared to the romantic plot which employs a more satisfying conclusion for the audience even if Pat’s love for Tiff is a little rushed.

VERDICT: Refreshing and satisfactory, Silver Linings Playbook is a beautifully made rom-com which doesn’t delve deep in cliches and instead allows you to celebrate its heartwarming story and well-written characters with Brad Cooper and Jen Lawrence delivering career best performances!

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