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Silver Linings Playbook
Starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer
Lawrence, Robert DeNiro

ROM-COM ATTENTION-GETTER: Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper star as newfound love interests in ‘Silver Linings Playbook.’ Courtesy photo

ROM-COM ATTENTION-GETTER: Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper star as newfound love interests in ‘Silver Linings Playbook.’ Courtesy photo

Mental illness fuels a lot of independent films. In fact, I could make a strong argument that roughly 38 percent of festivals are programmed with movies about people suffering from some kind of mental issue and/or addiction. There was a time when sex addiction or personality altering medications were taboo subjects unexplored in media. I remember seeing “Drugstore Cowboy” in 1989 with Matt Dillon and thinking how radical the idea of a prescription pill-popping drug addict was. Twenty plus years later, it’s practically an afterthought.

“Silver Linings Playbook” is an interesting and often entertaining movie, following a funny, sometimes dark look at two wounded souls who are dealing with their own particular baggage. It’s fascinating because of the unlikable nature of the characters. This is an area in which David O’Russell (“Fighter”) seems to have excelled. His movies often feature abrasive and obtuse characters trying to wedge their circular personalities into a square-shaped society. This particular story of wayward souls focuses on Pat (Bradley Cooper), a neurotic and obsessive mess who has just been released from a mental health facility. Months earlier he suffered a breakdown after catching his wife making sweet, sweet love to another man in the shower. His response was to beat the man half to death.

After his incarceration, he returns home where his bookie father (Robert Deniro) and a hopeful mother (Jacki Weaver) try to keep Pat’s obsessive leanings in check. Pat still believes he can win back his wife in spite of a restraining order and some rather disturbing stalker-like tendencies. He wrestles with taking his medication and convinces himself he can become a better person and get his old life back. Though this contradicts all empirical evidence to the contrary, Pat keeps a positive attitude and looks for any way to get back into her good graces.

An opportunity presents itself in the form a friendly connection. Pat gets set up with another loose cannon named Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). Her story is a little more tragic: After losing her police-officer husband, she turns to drugs and sex to get over her grief. She’s brash, fearless and ridiculously good looking. There’s some awkward tension between the two of them. Tiffany seems fascinated with Pat’s tourrettes-like social styling, and Pat sees Tiffany as a way around the restraining order to get messages to his wife. Only an idiot would not see the inevitable groin heat being emanated by these two extremely good looking people.

Everything about “Silver Linings Playbook” is oft-traveled territory. Nothing here is new or particularly original; it’s a romantic comedy with some dramatic leanings. The mental-health angle isn’t really novel anymore, but “Silver Linings Playbook” works because of the amount of polish involved. It’s not a typical, low-budget independent film. The pedigree of everybody involved is top notch. When stacking the deck with so much talent, it exceeds expectations.

First off, the movie is a real revelation for Bradley Cooper, who, up to this point, seemed to be a very capable guy with some charisma but never showed the kind of chops to make me consider him a serious actor. He’s a haircut with a winning smile. “Silver Linings Playbook” reveals that this guy has more going on between the ears than I previously thought. Jennifer Lawrence is exceptional, as she always seems to be in smaller films. I can’t think of an actress who seems more comfortable in smaller, more intimate films. She’s got the goods and they are on full display here.

My only complaint about “Silver Linings Playbook” is its shifting tone, which bounces back and forth between more traditional comedy and loftier drama. There are moments of pure suburban tragedy and ugly humanity, mixed in with dance contests and sight gags. David O’Russell seems to have employed a kitchen-sink mentality while making the film. It doesn’t always work, but it does the majority of the time.

I’m also surprised how little I cared for Robert Deniro here. The guy has spent the 2000s phoning-in performances with the frequency of a political-survey auto dialer. With so many natural and nuanced performances, watching Deniro reverting to form almost feels like a disservice to the film. All these actors put forth a lot of effort, and then we have the grizzled old war horse doing a slight variation of his “Meet the Parents shtick.” It feels like a missed opportunity.

Still, “Silver Linings Playbook” is an inspired little independent film. Cooper and Lawrence are great and in spite of the inevitability of their romance, I actually found myself actually rooting for those crazy kids. It’s an imperfect flick about imperfect people that still merits attention. And it’s received quite a few from the Academy Awards, which nominated it in many categories: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best Director.

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