On paper, it sounds like a potential downer.
A man who has been locked up in a mental institution for eight months after finding his wife with another man. A young woman whose husband dies after three years and five days of marriage.
They're two kooky people whose conversations include declarations such as: "You think I'm crazier than you. ... Oh my God, you're killing me!"
And yet, in the nimble hands of writer-director David O. Russell ("The Fighter," "Three Kings") and an eclectic, electrifying cast led by Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker and Anupam Kher, "Silver Linings Playbook" is surprisingly delightful and deserving of Oscar consideration.
4 stars = Outstanding
- Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Ni.
- Rating: R for language and some sexual content/nudity.
It dances around the squiggly line between dramedy and comedy, tilting more toward the latter and radiating an authenticity about life in Philadelphia. It's where rooting for the Eagles is a sacred, often superstitious experience and DeSean Jackson jerseys are as ubiquitous as black-and-gold ones here with No. 43 or 7.
Mr. Cooper is Pat Solatano, a substitute teacher back home with his parents in Philly after landing in a Baltimore psychiatric facility on a plea bargain (he went psycho on the other man with his fists, not a butcher knife). He is ready and oh-so-eager to reclaim his old life and Nikki, his English teacher wife.
Pat, diagnosed with bipolar disorder with mood swings, insists he doesn't have a history of violence.
"I'm not the explosion guy. My father's the explosion guy," and since he's played by Mr. De Niro, you can believe that. His dad lost his job and now is a bookie who thinks Pat brings "good juju" when the Eagles are playing.
When Pat meets a young widow, Tiffany (Ms. Lawrence), at a pal's house, she volunteers to help him reach out to Nikki although she asks for a favor in return. And then the playbook veers into unforeseen and ultimately, utterly charming territory.
Pat and, to a lesser extent, Tiffany, speak in a rapid-fire way as if transported to "His Girl Friday." Words tumble out of people's mouths, and characters talk over each other, as folks do in real life, sometimes trading insults or what they consider hard truths.
"You love it when I have problems, you love it," Tiffany tells her sister (Julia Stiles). "Then you can be the good one."
One exception is Pat's mother, Ms. Weaver, the slow-talking voice of reason and reassurance, a far cry from her Oscar-nominated matriarch in the crime drama "Animal Kingdom."
"Silver Linings Playbook," based on the Matthew Quick novel of the same name, is best seen with as clean a slate as possible. Try to avoid the TV commercials and clips accompanying Mr. Cooper's entertaining but ubiquitous talk show appearances so you can go in fresh.
Ms. Lawrence, from "The Hunger Games" and "Winter's Bone," handles an adult role with ease and Mr. Cooper takes his comedic chops from "The Hangover," his dramatic heft from "The Words" and "Limitless" and his baby blues and turns Pat into a bundle of optimism, nervous energy and occasional hair-trigger temper, sometimes set off by a once-sentimental song.
There's no "Twilight" style twist, just a story about a man looking for a positive end to any story -- on the page or otherwise -- and a place that feels warmly genuine, thanks to homemade braciole, bets wagered on Sunday football games and a sturdy belief in silver linings.
Opens today at AMC-Loews at the Waterfront and Manor in Squirrel Hill.