‘Silver Linings Playbook’: A Struggling Pair Face Their Own 4th-and-26

SILVER LININGS Playbook is about football in the same way that Bull Durham is about baseball. Each sport plays an important role — it’s almost a secondary character — but never obscures the larger themes of relationships between damaged people. You don’t even have to be a fan to enjoy each film for the achievement it is.

Bradley Cooper’s Pat is just out of a mental health facility, where he spent eight months being treated for bipolar disorder after he kicked the ass of the guy bonking his wife. He’s living in his parents’ house in the Philadelphia suburbs, trying to jump-start his life and win back his wife. Jennifer Lawrence’s Tiffany is a young widow trapped by her own demons. She, too, is back with her folks; her salvation is a dance competition for which she’s training. Their uneasy alliance stumbles haltingly into a wobbly friendship in which each tries to help the other.

The movie boasts two great strengths. The first is its refreshing portrayal of mental illness. Pat and Tiffany aren’t mysteriously insightful characters possessing wisdom that the “sane” can only dream of. They are in therapy. They are on meds. They fuck up, a lot, and they struggle mightily to get back to a good place in their lives. Hollywood doesn’t often show us the way depression and anxiety and mania and schizophrenia and all of those other delightful conditions affect normal people living quiet lives. We get serial killers and savants instead. How refreshing to see Pat’s and Tiffany’s stories.

The second is the completely winning performances of the leads. You have to have some serious chops to out-act Robert De Niro, who kind of chews scenery as plays Pat’s Eagles-obssessed (and just as damaged) father, and Cooper and Lawrence deliver. Their Oscar buzz is no joke; they are astoundingly good.

David O. Russell shot Silver Linings Playbook in and around the city. It was cool to see the Inquirer, the Llanerch Diner, the parking lot of the Linc, the Benjamin Franklin House, the Phillies’ 2008 World Series appearance, and even a Saint Joseph’s billboard (!) up on the big screen. And the Bill Bergey jersey that De Niro wears at one point is priceless.

The Eagles may have missed the playoffs this year. Thanks to the terrific Silver Linings, they still helped me spend a very enjoyable Sunday afternoon in January. | DL

 

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