Movie review: Silver Linings Playbook, starring Bradley Cooper

4.00

Dysfunction drama is right on the ball

David O Russell's psychocomedy is a fractious, uneven affair, full of jabbering voices and clashing temperaments, and for a while I couldn't get on with it at all. Dysfunctional behaviour, however comical in tone, requires careful handling: a little of it goes a long way, and a lot of it turns an audience right off. Silver Linings Playbook takes some risks in this area, but have patience and the rewards become clear: there is a crackle to it and an off-the-wall charm you don't much encounter in the movie mainstream.

Its biggest risk is putting Bradley Cooper's performance front and centre. He plays Pat, who's just finishing an eight-month stay at a Baltimore mental-health institution. When his mother comes to take him home, he tells her "I'm remaking myself", which sounds ominous. What he means is he's going to get himself into shape and win back his estranged wife, Nikki, because "we're in love and we're married – it's electric between us."

What Nikki feels isn't certain, though we do know she has a restraining order on him. Cooper, whose star has risen swiftly since The Hangover, here exhibits a hard blue-eyed stare and a hectoring tone that put us on edge. Pat has gone back to living in Philadelphia with his parents (Jacki Weaver and Robert De Niro), who have the longsuffering look of folks prepared to sacrifice their peace and quiet. It's one thing for their bipolar son to rant about the shortcomings of the novel he's just read (A Farewell to Arms), but does he have to barge into their bedroom at 3am to do so?

Pat also has a dangerous trigger about music, specifically Stevie Wonder's "My Cherie Amour", and we learn in flashback what it did to him. He's on medication, of course, and he's also seeing a shrink. "You need to get to a quieter place," the latter tells him. The whole film needs to get to a quieter place, actually, what with Pat and his dad both flying off the handle. It transpires that De Niro, a manic fan of the Philadelphia Eagles football team, has been banned from the stadium for fighting. Things start to change when Pat meets a young widow named Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who's suffered her own sort of breakdown and had a string of affairs at work. "You think I'm crazier than you," she says, incredulous, though the jury's out on that one given that Tiffany has sort-of stalked him to become his jogging partner.

But with her arrival the film goes on the upswing, animated by Lawrence's dark-eyed directness (she has a stare to match Cooper's). Brilliant in the sombre Winter's Bone and the only good thing about The Hunger Games, Lawrence does something new here as this vulnerable vamp, unable to hold back her disinhibited confessions but determined to put her life on an even keel. We sense there's feeling between her and Pat, though she has to make a bargain with him to get to first base. If he agrees to partner her in a local ballroom dancing competition, she will act as go-between to his wife and thus enable him, as he thinks, to rebuild his marriage. Somehow the film manages to turn Pat's delusional struggle to good advantage; he senses "silver linings" everywhere, even if we don't. (His fanatical devotion to exercise put me in mind of David Foster Wallace's great novel Infinite Jest, which also explored the links between depression and sport).

Adapting from Matthew Quick's debut novel, David O Russell doesn't present Tiffany and Pat in a traditional "romantic" way. These are damaged people, and the director's habit of zooming in on faces conveys their somewhat unstable chemistry. There's a shot of her suddenly popping up behind him on his morning run that's so well-timed it's both funny and slightly scary (it's a bit like the moment Woody Allen ambushes ex-wife Meryl Streep on a crowded avenue in Manhattan). The jittery mood recalls Russell's previous film, The Fighter, where no family get-together could conclude without at least one brawl.

The handheld camera wades right into the yammering fray at home, where De Niro, a bookie with OCD, keeps asking his son to spend time, even though he's clueless about how to talk to him. His superstitious rituals around every Eagles game indicate just how nuts he is: he believes he can affect the team's results just so long as no one goes "messing up the juju". It's a definite weakness in the film's last quarter that a huge bet on one such result is set up as a dramatic crux. People awaiting the outcome of a sports game is never as nailbiting as film-makers want us to think.

Yet it's confounding that as the film takes on a more conventional shape, the mismatched destinies of Pat and Tiffany really begin to matter to us. Without giving away the plot, her insistence on his keeping to their dance-competition deal gathers in urgency, and eventually in meaning. So even though the shouty confrontational style of their talk can get on your nerves, their commitment to dealing with their "crazy sad shit" becomes weirdly, unexpectedly moving. De Niro weighs in with a fine performance, mannered in the old way but funny with it, and Chris Tucker – whom I never believed it would be possible to like, or even watch, after the Rush Hour movies – is winningly modest as a close friend of Pat's from the mental hospital. See it in the wrong mood and you might hate this film. But I have to say it sneaked through my defences.

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test