Silver Linings Playbook (2012) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4) : A conventional but offbeat rom-com

small_silverliningsplaybook01 I have heard from many people that “Silver Linings Playbook” is a conventional romantic comedy. They are right about that, but, as they also pointed out in their praises, the movie is a conventional romantic comedy stuffed with offbeat charms to please you. Sure, it dances with its predictable moves at many pre-determined points, and I exactly knew where it would eventually arrive in the end during my viewing, but it brings lots of freshness and oddness to its genre conventions mainly through its rather dark subject and the palpable chemistry between its lead performers. The result is immensely lovable and genuinely optimistic, and the movie certainly deserves its place as the best romantic comedy of 2012.

Like many romantic comedy movies, the movie begins its story with an unhappy hero, but Pat Solitano Jr.(Bradley Cooper) is quite an unhappy guy to observe. He has been suffering from bipolar disorder, and he even did not know about his mental problem until he totally screwed up his marriage. Due to a very violent incident involving his wife’s affair, his wife divorced him, and he lost his house and his job as a consequence, and now he has been in the mental health facility in Baltimore for 8 months.

Nevertheless, Pat tries to be optimistic with ‘positive thinking’ in spite of his uncertain future. Even before being released from the facility to live with his parents, he has become obsessed with regaining his wife back although the restraining order against him is still effective. He believes he can have his former happiness again through attaining this personal goal, and he even does not take drugs prescribed to him just because they always make his mind foggy and he believes he can live without them.

small_silverliningsplaybook06 While maintaining its lighthearted comical tone, the movie does not sugarcoat the reality of mental illness at all, and we come to see how insufferable Pat can be at times as he unintentionally disrupts his parents’ daily life many times. Madness may look romantic in some books and movies, but mental illness is not something you can easily live with every day, and you will probably come to admire how patient and understanding Pat’s parents are to their problematic son. Pat’s father Pat Sr.(Robert De Niro) also has his own obsession problem involving his favorite football team, and I really have no idea about how much his loving wife Dolores(Jacki Weaver) has tolerated her husband’s typical behaviors associated with obsessive–compulsive disorder.

On one day, Pat comes to meet Tiffany(Jennifer Lawrence), a sister-in-law of his close friend Ronnie(John Ortiz). Like him, Tiffany has her own mental problem; she became too promiscuous in her former workplace after suddenly losing her young husband, so she got fired and has been unemployed as a result. Not so surprisingly, Pat and Tiffany go through a Meet Cute/Meet Crazy moment while not realizing that they are attracted to each other during their first encounter at Ronnie’s house, and we get a very amusing moment as they share their experiences with prescribed drugs on the dinner table.

Their first meeting awkwardly ends, but their relationship begins to grow through their common problem. Tiffany actively approaches to Pat, and she gives an offer Pat cannot resist; if he practices with her as her dance partner for the upcoming dance competition, she will become a messenger between him and his wife for a while. Though initially reluctant about it, Pat eventually accepts this deal, so they begins to practice together at her house as the dance competition day is approaching.

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Now you have some pretty good idea about what will happen next. The movie mostly stays in its genre conventions as expected, but the director/screenplay writer David O. Russell takes a fresh approach to the conventions through his flawed but likable oddball characters, and it is fun to watch how the movie cleverly handles its offbeat elements in the confines of the conventions. Even the minor supporting characters like Pat’s psychiatrist(Anupam Kher) or Pat’s fellow patient Danny(Chris Tucker in a controlled comic mode) are colorful and lively as interesting characters, and they provide extra comedy at the fringe of the story while revolving around Pat and Tiffany. The dialogues in Russell’s screenplay based on the novel written by Matthew Quick are smart and earnest, and they are delivered with good comic timing by his talented actors.

As he did in his previous film “The Fighter”(2010), Russell draws uniformly good performances from his cast, and it is no wonder that “Silver Linings Playbook” became the first film which got Oscar-nominated in all four acting categories since “Reds”(1981). I must confess that I have never thought highly of Bradley Copper although recognizing his fairly good talent as a comedy actor, but he gives an excellent nuanced performance through deftly balancing his character on the line between humor and pathos. You may not want to live with Pat even at the ending, but Cooper presents his character as a nice man who cannot help himself sometimes in the struggle with his mental illness, and we come to care about Pat even though we cannot wholly like him.

The chemistry between the lead performers is always required for the success of romantic comedy movie, and Jennifer Lawrence’s spunky performance generates lots of chemistry through its effortless interactions with Cooper’s quirky performance on the screen. Since her breakthrough in “Winter’s Bone”(2010), Lawrence has been impressively advancing her promising career while appearing the blockbuster films such as “The Hunger Games”(2012), and now she pleasantly brandishes her comic talents as an unstable but plucky girl with lots of hearts. Lawrence and Cooper are pleasure to watch as a likable (and good-looking) couple, and she has a wonderful scene where Tiffany convinces Pat’s Dad with his own logics involving some ridiculous superstitions we have seen from hardcore sports fan from time to time.

small_silverliningsplaybook03 As Pat’s obsessive dad, Robert De Niro, who has been rather disappointing during recent years, shows us that he has lost none of his talent as a great actor despite several awful movies he appeared in. Pat Sr. is so enthusiastic and fanatic about his favorite football team that he does not miss any match on TV(he has been banned from coming to the stadium for years due to his violent outburst in the past, by the way), and the way he tries to get a chance to start his own business through bookmaking makes an interesting parallel to Pat’s attempt to regain his wife; both of them try to be happy through their respective crazy ways fueled by their madness, and how their respective attempts are paid off in a way they never imagined is another amusement added to the story.

With Jacki Weaver, who deserves her surprise Oscar nomination as her small but crucial supporting performance, De Niro makes their scenes warm and sincere. Just like his son, Pat Sr. does not see his own problems while clearly observing the problems from his son, but he tries to connect with his son through sharing his enthusiasm with him, and his advice to Pat around the finale rings true even though we are not so surprised about what he says. Completely different from her diabolical performance in “Animal Kingdom”(2010), Weaver is less showy than her co-performers, but she is important in the story as the practical voice of sanity amid other characters’ craziness. As a long-suffering wife and mother, Dolores knows it is always hard to persuade her husband and her son to do something a little more sensible, but she keeps trying, and she gradually reveals herself as a solid ground supporting her incorrigible family.

small_silverliningsplaybook04 Like “Little Miss Sunshine”(2006), another popular comedy about dysfunctional family, “Silver Linings Playbook” shows how a familiar story can be freshened up a lot by distinctive elements for good comedy. As a matter of fact, I was really glad to see the movie sidestepping one of the most tedious conventions in romantic comedy at one point. There is a classic moment of misunderstanding we have seen from other countless romantic comedy movies, but the movie does not get trapped into such a cliché like that because its characters are the brutally honest people who immediately follow their heart as soon as they decide.

On the whole the movie is an engaging romantic comedy about human eccentricity(or insanity, perhaps). Even when it arrives at its expected ending, the movie reminds us that they are still have problems and will probably face the other troubles as their life goes on, but there is a silver lining inside their last scene; they become a little more optimistic about their life than before. This is nothing new, but the movie knows how to deliver it with deep empathy and good laughs as dutifully following its plot, and that is why it is one of the sweetest and wittiest comedies I encountered recently.

BRADLEY COOPER stars in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

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