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
Thomas carried Lady Edith over the flames in her bedroom in Downton Abbey series five

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
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.

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits