Bradley Cooper shines in David O. Russell’s darkly comedic tale about mental illness.

In David O. Russell’s sixth film, Silver Linings Playbook, he combines the quirkiness of I Heart Huckabees with the family drama of The Fighter. He treats his characters seriously but is able to find the humor in their actions and situations. It’s a fine line, but he’s able to make the audience care about his characters while also understanding their faults and occasionally laughing at them. Working with a great script, which Russell also wrote, what really brings the film to life is his visual work but also a uniformly fantastic cast.

Bradley Cooper plays Pat, who has just just been released from an institution and into his parents’ care. He landed there as part of a plea bargain following an incident with his wife and is determined to get his life back together and reunite with her. However, he’s finding it a lot more difficult to handle life on the outside than he anticipated. Upon entering the institution, he was diagnosed as bi-polar but is unable to come to terms with being medicated, attending therapy and all the other tools that will help him get better. Despite appearing to accept his issues, he’s still grappling with the loss of his wife and wants to put the ugly episode behind him.

Back in Philadelphia, he’s staying with his mother Dolores (Jackie Weaver) and his father Pat, Sr. (Robert De Niro) who has an almost unhealthy obsession with the Eagles. As he’s attempting to put it all back together, he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) who’s recently lost a husband and has issues of her own. She tells Pat that she occasionally sees his wife socially and he asks if she will pass along a letter for him, in order to circumvent a restraining order. She agrees, but only if he’ll be her dancing partner to participate in a dance contest. Hesitant at first, he soon agrees and finds the weekly lessons rehabilitating and even fun.

The film succeeds at walking the line between comedy and emotional drama, without dipping too far into either side. Of course, it’s Cooper who carries the bulk of the film and this may prove to be his breakout performance. While he stood out in The Hangover, he’s never really shown the depth he does here. His character always means well and really does want to heal, but there’s something inside of him that he just can’t control. Cooper plays him as a man who’s constantly trying to stay in control yet has something inside trying to escape. He doesn’t play up “being crazy,” instead creating someone that’s well rounded and realistic. Just as important, he finds his equal in Jennifer Lawrence. Tiffany is as messed up and lost as Pat. Both act out and Pat has a hard time filtering his thoughts, whereas Tiffany feels so alone following her husband’s death that she sleeps around to find comfort. But while Pat refuses to believe how out of control he can really be, Tiffany owns that part of herself. It’s this quality that draws Pat to her and also makes her character one of the more complicated and intriguing female leads this year. She may come off as the classic manic-pixie-dream-girl, but her issues are real, as are Pat’s.

Robert De Niro is also a standout at as Pat’s father, who has such an obsession with the Eagles that they’re basically his life. Following the loss of his job, he makes bets with a friend and is doing pretty well. However, he’s incredibly superstitious, almost the point of sickness, and is convinced that Pat is his good luck charm. But because Pat has increasingly been spending more time with Tiffany, he becomes frustrated but also rejected. Of course, there’s an obvious parallel between Pat’s diagnosed sickness and his father’s perceived one but Russell does a delicate job of creating a much more deep and complicated relationship beyond just that aspect. What’s so incredible about the film is what Russell makes out of such a simple story. This year alone, there are many films that appear more complicated on the surface but that never get near the depth and sincerity of Silver Linings Playbook.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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