When a movie has this much hype, I'm sometimes wary walking into the theatre. I haven't loved all of David O. Russell's movies, and I'd yet to be impressed by Bradley Cooper. Still, I had a pretty good feeling I was going to enjoy this strange blend of romantic comedy, family drama, and dance competition. I had, however, no expectations for how much I was going to love, love, LOVE this movie. Silver Linings Playbook is incredible, the kind that I can recommend to just about every age group. No matter what kind of movies you may like, there's something in this one for everybody. It's the kind of carefully constructed movie that does it all: makes you laugh, makes you cry, makes you cheer. Every scene cackles with energy. Every performance raises the bar. And it's also enormously entertaining. There have been divisive feelings toward almost all of the big year-end Oscar contenders of 2012, but I don't see how anyone couldn't fall under the spell of Silver Linings Playbook. It's that good.
Writer/director David O. Russell has had an eclectic career, mostly of films that split audiences down the line. Three Kings was a head-scratcher, and I Heart Huckabees has both its fans (not me) and very-much-non-fans (me!). He disappeared for awhile then re-appeared on the scene in 2010 with The Fighter, a great crowd-pleasing movie, and Silver Linings Playbook is even better. It works on your emotions from the first scene on, as it introduces us to Pat (Bradley Cooper), a former high school teacher with mental health issues, in and out of institutions, whose mom brings him back home with the hope he can finally get back on his feet. The dynamics between Pat and his parents (Robert De Niro and Animal Kingdom's Jacki Weaver) gets the film steamrolling forward in the first half-hour, and if the movie had JUST been about this, it still would've been good.
But then Jennifer Lawrence shows up, and all bets are off. She's an unpredictable, abrasive, also mentally unstable young woman whose husband has just been killed in a car accident, and she takes to Pat right away. While some elements of their relationship may stick to formula, the characters are so interesting, and their chemistry is so palpable, that you won't mind. Despite their instabilities, you root for them all the way through to the end, especially when it comes to a dance competition at the end that should feel like something out of a dumber, lesser movie yet somehow works, and works great!
The performances in Silver Linings Playbook are all stand-outs, in a year chockfull of great performances. Bradley Cooper did a swell job in 2011's Limitless, but this is his breakthrough. He's manic and sad, and even hard to like in the beginning, but his character grows on you, and the transition he makes throughout the film is subtle and believable. Robert De Niro has been working steadily for decades, but ever since his comedic turn in Analyze This in 1999, his juicy roles have been few and far between. His ridiculous turn in New Year's Eve was for me the final cough in what used to be a great career, so I'm thrilled to say how great he is in Silver Linings Playbook. As a father of a mentally unstable son, one who he wants to spend time with despite their many years of differences, De Niro hits just the right note. Jacki Weaver is a delight as the caring mom, Dash Mihok is memorable as an atypically sympathetic police officer, Anupam Kher gets many of the funniest lines as Pat's doctor, and Chris Tucker, who appears in fewer movies than those who have long since been deceased, is a welcome addition to the ensemble cast.
But the powerhouse is Jennifer Lawrence. The film works great, but it reaches another level with the addition of her character, and her electric performance. Having broken into the mainstream with The Hunger Games, and now with Silver Linings Playbook, Lawrence (who was rightly nominated for an Oscar for her performance in Winter's Bone), is quickly becoming her generation's Meryl Streep. Silver Linings Playbook is a delight from start to finish, the kind of movie that as soon as you leave the theatre, you want to grab a bunch of your friends and family and drag them back into the theatre for a second showing. I absolutely loved it. It's one of my favorite films of 2012!