For those of you who are too jaded to enjoy a good romantic comedy, stop reading now. If you like a by the numbers romance, go elsewhere for your entertainment, and if you are expecting happy endings in life, maybe this isn’t the film for you (or maybe, just maybe, it is).
Director David O. Russell’s follow up to The Fighter is the exquisitely funny and uniquely conceived romantic comedy Silver Linings Playbook. It tells the story of former teacher Pat Solitano (a smashing Bradley Cooper) and his relationship with Tiffany (always outstanding Jennifer Lawrence), as they find a way to connect in the hopelessness of loss and despair.
Pat is a bipolar fellow who has just been released from a mental institution where he was sent after severely beating the man whom he caught having sex in the shower with his wife Nikki (Brea Bee), while their wedding song (“My Cherie Amour” by Stevie Wonder) was playing on the stereo. Nikki has a restraining order but that doesn’t stop Pat from wanting to see her and get back with her, but she has moved away and there is seemingly no way to connect with her again.
Enter Tiffany, a young widow who lost her police officer husband in a traffic accident. Tiffany handled her grief by becoming a nymphomaniac, and half of the town seems to be texting her for an encounter. She is trying to stop this behavior when she meets Pat at her sister’s house, and they start to form a stilted kind of friendship based on a love of jogging around the neighborhood.
Pat has moved back home to the suburbs of Philadelphia to live with his parents Pat and Dolores (Robert DeNiro and Jackie Weaver). These people are dealing with their own issues because the senior Pat has lost his job and is working as a bookmaker, with a goal to raise enough money to open a restaurant. Pat sleeps in his old room and reads A Farewell to Arms voraciously to the last page, and then reacts so violently to the ending that he throws the book through the bedroom window (Hemingway sometimes has a way of doing that to you).
Pat’s problem with the book is a microcosm for his issues with life: he wants a happy ending. He cannot process the fact that the lovers don’t make it in the end. This is not his view of life, and touches a nerve because of his situation with Nikki. The rest of the movie is basically about Pat trying to construct a new narrative for himself, one with a resoundingly happy ending; however, real life and his mental condition keep getting in his way.
Convinced that he can only find happiness with his ex-wife, Pat asks Tiffany to get a letter to her. Tiffany agrees if he helps her “with this thing.” Pat agrees and discovers that Tiffany is preparing for a dancing competition and needs a partner. He reluctantly starts to practice with her in order to get his letter delivered. As they get to know each other more closely, it is obvious that Tiffany has feelings for him, but Pat is still focused on Nikki as the prize and cannot see the sparks sizzling all over his dance partner.
There are so many hilarious moments here, among them when his friend Danny from the mental hospital (reliably funny Chris Tucker) comes to watch them dance (in a weird twist on what usually happens on Dancing with the Stars). Danny gets them to jazz things up a bit, and as Pat watches Danny dancing with Tiffany, some twinges of jealousy register on his face.
DeNiro’s Pat Senior is his best role in years. He imbues the father with his own pathology (he’s obsessive compulsive) and also has anger management issues like his son, so that apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree. The relationship between father and son becomes intimately connected to football (dad is a huge Philadelphia Eagles fan), but this also has something to do with the bookmaking and a possibility of a big payday. Pat and Tiffany become entwined in a bet that will either bring dad huge winnings or sink him into debt forever.