Movie review: Silver Linings Playbook, starring Bradley Cooper - Reviews - Films - The Independent

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
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
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
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.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week