A man with bipolar comes back to his old life after a stint in an institution and finds it hard to adjust until he makes friends with a woman with her own difficulties to overcome.
David O. Russell, 2012
So Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence starring in a movie together is like waving a red flag in front of the bull that is me. He’s hot, she’s amazing, and I’d heard a lot of good things about this movie, so I was looking forward to watching it. I can see why it connects with people; there’s a sense of realism about the movie, in which former teacher Pat Solitano is forced to move back in with his family and try to start his life anew after a bipolar-driven breakdown and beating of a man with who his wife was having an affair. He meets Tiffany, a young woman whose husband died and is having trouble coping with her grief (IMDb calls her a “mysterious woman”, which I really don’t like – what caused her to act out isn’t a mystery, and she’s a really interesting and solid character). They’re both healed by each other and the power of dance (in my opinion, movies should have people be healed by dancing more often). This is a film full of good performances – even Chris Tucker is really good here – but Jennifer Lawrence is the standout, scared and frustrated by her own actions but deeply empathic and caring, by turns fierce, manic, quietly moving and full of joy.
Bradley Cooper holds his own opposite his fabulous costar, creating a portrait of a man who is struggling with not being defined by his mental illness even as his actions are driven by it. His obsession with his wife is incredibly frustrating, but everything the audience feels is reflected in the characters around him – his friends and family, who are trying their best but can’t possibly understand what he’s going through. Robert DeNiro is fantastic as Pat Sr., who is struggling with his own guilt over his son’s illness and has a fair few issues of his own. There are a number of interesting ideas that are handled with a light and realistic touch, such as the relationship between Pat and his therapist, or the moments of pure despair from Jennifer Lawrence’s Tiffany. The spark of their chemistry gives this movie life, its sense of optimism and happiness imbued by their strong performances.
The only thing that bothered me about the movie was the way it was shot. For some reason it looked oddly amateur, with director David O. Russell opting for film student moves and some very strange framing. It might be trying to emphasise the realism of the film, but it detracts from it in some way. It’s also hard to get into the rhythm of the film, but it becomes a lot more likable once you do, once you realise where the outbursts and violence come from. Pat Jr. takes a long time to warm to, but once you do the protectiveness of the people around him becomes understandable. It also takes a long, meandering time to get somewhere, which drags the pace a little. Still, these are forgivable in a personal film that thrives on its performances.
The way mental illness is handled in this movie is a beacon for other films about similar issues; it’s so sympathetic without being preachy. This is a film full of people trying to do their best to be happy and do the right thing
Silver Linings Playbook on IMDb