Life doesn't always go according to plan. Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper) has lost everything -- his house, his job, and his wife. He now finds himself living back with his mother (Jacki Weaver) and father (Robert DeNiro) after spending eight months is a state institution on a plea bargain. Pat is determined to rebuild his life, remain positive and reunite with his wife, despite the challenging circumstances of their separation. All Pat's parents want is for him to get back on his feet-and to share their family's obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles football team. When Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a mysterious girl with problems of her own, things get complicated. Tiffany offers to help Pat reconnect with his wife, but only if he'll do something very important for her in return. As their deal plays out, an unexpected bond begins to form between them, and silver linings appear in both of their lives.
In lesser hands than director David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook could have been a typically cringe-inducing throwaway Hollywood rom-com. As it is, this unusual and deeply affecting story of crazy love is a bold observation about the joys and tragedy of life lived by deeply flawed characters facing triumph and adversity against a backdrop of painfully familiar family dysfunction. It's also a tremendous achievement in formal structure, with a flair for storytelling that's as moving as it is delightful. Bradley Cooper plays Pat, an until-recently undiagnosed bipolar person who's just home from a lengthy stay in a mental institution and doing his darnedest to get his head and his life back on track. His concerned parents, vividly embodied by Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver, have plenty of troubles of their own when they warily take him in and tiptoe around the eggshells of a psyche that still veers wildly from seeming self-control to scary bouts of mania. Pat has a plan to win back the unfaithful wife whose restraining order is still in force because of the violent episode that sent him away after he nearly killed her lover. Interjected into this wobbly family scenario is Tiffany, a friend of a friend who is embroiled in her own turmoil of mental instability following the recent death of her husband. Jennifer Lawrence is a charming revelation as Tiffany, flexing sensitive acting muscles that are as toned as her lithe form. She throws herself into the role of a depressed, promiscuous young woman who needs Pat in her life about as much as she needs another personal tornado to rip her apart. But the movie magically reveals that these two disturbed souls have a destiny that's never really in doubt; although the whirlwind turns the movie takes to get them there are often breathtaking. Russell liberally adapted the movie from Matthew Quick's 2008 novel, and he deftly imbues the story with a vibrant sense of place (suburban, blue-collar Philadelphia) and each character, no matter how tangential to Pat and Tiffany's journey, with quirks and nuances that brilliantly reveal their essence. The subject of mental illness has rarely been portrayed with such honesty and candid respect. Constantly keeping us off guard, Silver Linings Playbook soars from darkness to a kind of screwball comedy that is as tender and touching as it is unpredictable. There are several tour-de-force moments that Russell constructs with the surest hand of direction, dialogue, and the talents of his cast. A key scene unfolds in a small living room where eight people are crammed together, each adding important pieces to the whole, and which thrums with a masterfully rhythmic pace. Another sequence follows the buildup to one of Pat's manic outbursts with a dizzying and increasingly stressful manifestation of the madness careening around in his head. It seems hard to believe that a love story with real humor, real pain, and genuine resonance that gets from point A to point B--it begins with a lone figure mumbling to himself and ends with a jubilantly staged ballroom dance--can succeed with so few missteps. But Silver Linings Playbook turns it all into an absorbing reality wherein life stumbles heartwarmingly toward what real love is all about. --Ted Fry