Silver Linings Playbook is the story of Pat Solitano, played by Bradley Cooper, who, at the time the movie opens, is living in a mental institution following a violent episode, involving him defacing his wife’s lover after finding them in the shower together during work hours. We find out quickly enough that is committed in such an institution, but not necessarily to it. He spits out the pills they give him; when he gets out, he continues to harbor fantasies that his wife still loves him, that he is fine and everyone else is crazy.
He soon, conveniently, meets another addled soul, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who recently lost her husband, and is dealing with her own demons in the form of sexual promiscuity and wide mood swings. She happens to be sisters with Solitano’s wife’s best friend, so, as so often happens in romantic comedies, a ridiculous bargain is struck: Solitano will dance with Tiffany in a couple’s competition, and in exchange, she will give Solitano’s wife a letter he has written her, a letter that spells out the true nature of his love, in an attempt to win her back. Meanwhile, Solitano’s father, played by Robert DeNiro, struggling with his own demons of old age, loses a gargantuan bet on the backs of another Philadelphia Eagle’s loss; in another ridiculous, rom-commy turn of events, he decides to go double-or-nothing on his gambling debts, and bets on his son and Tiffany to make a minimum 5.0 score in the competition. DeNiro has, in fact, several wonderful moments as an aging father of adults, admitting in a beautiful monologue that he doesn’t even care about football: it’s just a way to connect with his son. Despite the movie’s sort of rampant cheesiness, this part seems real.
Unfortunately the movie doesn’t know if it wants to be a defining comedy-within-a-tragedy movie, as skillfully done in 50/50, or to go all the way and be a romantic comedy, addressing only from 40,000 feet away serious topics like mental illness and loss. This inability to articulate percolates the entire film. Bradley Cooper should be advised that while he may want to change his image to a more serious actor (and distance himself away from his rumspringa days as “Hangover” lead), simply playing someone with a mental illness does not a serious actor make.
Out November 21st in select theaters