By Steven Slayford

A bipolar ex-teacher just out of the mental hospital and heading for almost-certain divorce, the young widow-turned-nymphomaniac of a local policeman and a Philadelphia dance competition. Not the most obvious ingredients for a romantic comedy and certainly not the most obvious ingredients for a likeable one. And yet, pushed on by both David O. Russell’s smart direction and engaging performances from Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in the leads, by the end you find yourself hoping that all three components come together in just the way that you want.

Turns from Robert de Niro (now as much a veteran of the neurotic old man as of the young Italian American anti-hero) and Australian Jacki Weaver as the parents of Pat (Cooper) aid the propulsion O. Russell’s film above the standard romantic fodder and even manage to establish it as one of the year’s finest in any genre.

At the start of the film we meet Pat at the end of an enforced eight-month spell at one of Pennsylvania’s finest mental health institutions after beating his wife’s lover almost to death. Pat is determined to win back the now-estranged English teacher Nikki (Brea Bee) and sets about undertaking a series of tasks in order to do so.imagesCAIVJ7UO

During this spell of wooing his absent spouse he visits a mutual friend’s house for dinner, in an attempt to gain further access to Nikki. It is here that he meets fellow ‘crazy’ Tiffany (Lawrence) and, after a number of further literal run-ins on the pair’s shared jogging route, Pat is convinced by her to take part in a dance contest in order to show his potentially attending wife that he can be the man that she wants.

This tale runs alongside the subplot of an obsessive-compulsive father in Pat Sr. (De Niro) who is desperate to use his illicit bookmaking to fund the desire to open his own restaurant. Pat Sr. has a habit of backing local team Philadelphia Eagles to win and his obsessive compulsion sees a need for his son to sit and watch every game with him as a lucky charm. Now match this fact with the fact that the final game of the season lies on the same day as the dance contest and you have yourself a semi-romantic cinematic conflict.

It is the engorging yet brittle dynamic between both Cooper and Lawrence and Cooper and De Niro that stands out here. Cooper is strong in the position of a man obsessed with how he is viewed by others and yet completely consumed in himself. Lawrence provides the perfect foil to this with her role as disciplined dance coach who struggles to control her emotions. Scenes between the two are littered with the perfect amount of humour, tension and lust, with all three coming from both the actors and their scripts.

De Niro’s frustrated father strengthens the film’s approach to mental illness, in part struggling with it himself and in part struggling to come to terms with the afflictions of his son. Cooper’s ability to display himself as his father’s son, even at times regressing to a teenage state, allows for the tension between the two to run throughout each and every scene. The mutual sulking and machismo of the two bring together both the comedic and emotional elements of the tale in a way that does not overstate the point.

Whilst the film’s ending may prove a little too simplistic when considering the complexity of the focal characters, Silver Linings Playbook proves to be one of the most enjoyable and innovative journeys of the year. A headful of fun.

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.