In the psycho-comedy Silver Linings Playbook, bipolar Pat (Bradley Cooper) is newly sprung from a mental hospital and given to smashing things when reminded of his estranged wife, with whom he’s delusionally convinced he’ll be reunited. Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a cop’s widow who recently lost her job after sleeping with everyone — everyone — at her office, might be even more disturbed.
For writer-director David O. Russell, they’re a hell-match made in heaven. He is, by all accounts, a tempestuous fellow, given to screaming matches and fistfights with actors — which I bring up not for gossip’s sake, but because his movies at their best cultivate a certain emotional disequilibrium. Pat — who lives with his parents and spends his days jogging to impress the wife who has taken out a restraining order against him — fends off Tiffany’s advances. But she’s persistent: When he heads out for a run, she’s suddenly behind him, swerving into the frame in her tight tracksuit. They can’t help but bond indelibly — they spark off each other’s craziness.
To convey Pat’s monomania, Cooper speaks loudly and with little variation in pitch. It’s not an especially imaginative performance, but with his fixed blue eyes he’s scary-pure. It’s Lawrence who knocked me sideways. I loved her in Winter’s Bone and The Hunger Games but she’s very young — I didn’t think she had this kind of deep-toned, layered weirdness in her. The rest of the cast is fine, although Robert DeNiro’s funny turn as Pat Sr. (He has obsessive-compulsive disorder) is basically Method throat-clearing. I wanted more of Chris Tucker as a fellow patient of Pat’s — he finds an original rhythm that’s like a collision of crisscrossing drugs, legal and illegal.
Silver Linings Playbook has a conventional climax — a dance competition with much riding on the outcome — and a rom-com finale. That part might make it a hit, but I prefer the discombobulation. When a policeman recognizes Tiffany as “Tommy’s widow,” she blurts, “Yes, I’m Tommy’s crazy whore widow minus the whore thing sometimes.” The zigging-zagging shame and exhibitionism and defensiveness in that outburst win my dance competition. “She’s a maniac, maniac on the floor … ”