Pat Solatano, Jr.(Bradley Cooper) is dealing with a few issues. His wife left him after having an affair with the history teacher in her school, his OCD superstitious father’s (Robert De Niro) a bit edgy, having been put on the exclusion list at the football stadium for his outbursts, and he hates that even Ernest Hemingway ruined the ending of his book A Farewell to Arms, killing off the girl just when he thought everything was going to fine. Is there nothing positive in the world anymore? Thing is, Pat’s dealing with a bipolar disorder with “mood swings and weird thinking brought on by stress,” something he’s been struggling with his whole life. When he nearly beat the history teacher to death after finding him in the shower with his wife, he ended up in an institution. But after eight months, the court decides he’s ready to try again. He heads home to live with his parents, determined to get back into shape and win his wife back. Ain’t as easy as it sounds.
He finds one right away in his best friend’s unemployed, recently widowed sister-in-law, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). At a dinner party, the two meet and there is something each find a bit curious in the other. Probably that they are both whacky. But in a we-tell-it-like-it-is-and-everyone-else-is-fake-so-we’re-actually-normal kind of way. As the night progresses, he learns they can share prescription medicine stories and that she is a slut. Well, a recovering slut. Still, she’ll let him sleep with her if he wants. Good deal. But he backs away, fearing he will loose his chance to win back his wife, Nikki. But she is also friends with Nikki. Hmmm. Silver lining. After their meet-cute, Pat sees this relationship as a chance to show his estranged spouse that he has a good heart and asks Tiffany to deliver a letter to her since he’s bound by a restraining order and can have no contact with her. Tiffany agrees, but on one condition: Pat has to dance. And not like do a jig in the living room, or even in town at the local pub. She wants him to be her partner in a The Benjamin Franklin Pairs Open Freestyle Dance Competition with prize money and audiences and costumes and the works. He agrees. And good thing he does. There’s silver linings all over that choice.
Directed by David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook could have been a truly awful movie. It’s packed to the rafters with cliches and is so formulaic that, like the title even hints to, the team followed the Oscar Bait Drama Playbook with all the first stringers on the field. Yet it works so remarkably well you almost feel a little dirty afterward for being so manipulated. The performances are all top of their game stuff, there’s no doubt, with Lawrence and Cooper simply lighting up every scene they are in. But it’s Robert De Niro that is the wonder here. The guy falls so deeply into the role the character is heartbreaking to watch, which is really refreshing, because let’s face it, he hasn’t exactly spread his acting wings too much in the past decade or so, The Good Shepard aside. But beyond all that, the script is a masterpiece, taking all those cliches and tropes and creating a story so fresh and clever it almost renews a little hope for Hollywood screenwriting. Almost. The way it brings everything together at the dance competition, including Nikki and Pat’s father’s football bet is spine-tingling. And I’ll just come out and say it: Chris Tucker was good. There. That probably won’t happen again.
That Moment In: Silver Linings Playbook
Scene Setup: Pat’s father, Pat Sr., has bet everything he has the Eagles versus Giants football game in hopes of winning enough money to buy a restaurant. The problem is that Pat Sr. is obsessed with superstition, and since he’s not allowed to attend any stadium games, will cling to anything that he thinks instigates a win for his beloved Philadelphia team. As it works out, he thinks his son has the luck in him and so he pleads with Pat to go to the game with his older brother and spread a bit of that luckiness to the Eagles. Pat says no because he’s already committed to Tiffany, they need to practice and game day is the same day they’ve already made plans. But he figures he can find a way to do both. At the game though, Pat gets in a fist fight and is ejected before the game even begins. The Eagles lose and he is never able to call Tiffany.
That Moment: (Timestamp 1:26:00) Pat, his brother and a few of the other guys come back to Pat Sr.’s house and Pat Sr. is a wreck. His “Birds” are defeated and he’s lost everything. He’s in total meltdown mode and starts berating Pat, telling him he is a loser and an idiot, that he is responsible for ruining everything. And that’s when Tiffany storms into the house and strides straight up to Pat, ignoring the obvious hostility already in the room. She fires a volley of reprimands, shouting that commitments were made and he blew it. Pat Sr. is befuddled, wondering what this crazy girl is doing in his house, convinced that she is the real reason why his son and his luck have fallen to crap. She mucked up all the Eagles juju. But boy does she flip that on its arse. As it turns out, it’s quite the opposite. She reveals that every single time Pat and she are together, a Philly team has won, and maybe because Pat bailed on their rehearsal today, the Giants beat the Eagles.
While we’ve know from the start that Tiffany is head strong and fierce, its in this moment where she reveals just how powerful and confident she is. What’s important in this exchange is a very subtle line about how she’s done her research in order to learn that, in fact, the Philly teams have won each and every time Pat and she are together. This isn’t just a blow up in her dance partner’s house. This isn’t even a selfish rant about her own needs and Pat’s dismissal of them, which either could have been made true. She understands Pat’s condition and more so, his father’s. She understands that in order to find any footing with either of them, she has to know the words that will make them stop and listen. She doesn’t come at Pat Sr. with anger about his obsessions and superstitions, instead, she uses them as leverage, spinning some numbers and coincidences into something she knows he will respond to. Very clever. Very smart. The script could have easily dismissed this line and made it so Tiffany was a closet fan and was only pretending to not like sports, but instead, she remains uncaring of it all. By having her do the research to find a way to talk to these people, we learn that Tiffany is something special. She is the real silver lining.