All it takes are great characters. I've sat through class after class with talk of character creation and development. The more to their lives, the more that comes out in the scene, the more connection an audience can make with a film, so-on and so-forth. In Silver Linings Playbook, one has worlds of family, insanity, sports, and love all colliding together with a fantastic ensemble delivering great performances. They (as characters and actors) all play off of each other so well that it's difficult to imagine Bradley Cooper's Pat without Jennifer Lawrence's Tiffany and vice versa; they also don't seem complete without Robert De Niro's Pat Sr. and same for the characters played by Jacki Weaver, John Ortiz, Chris Tucker, Julia Stiles, Anupam Kher, Shea Whigham, and Dash Mihok.
Based on a novel by Matthew Quick, writer-director David O. Russell delivers a beautifully constructed character-driven piece that serves as a great companion to his previous film, The Fighter. Both are about suburban families, friends, and lovers colliding with ones' hopes, dreams, and aspirations. Instead of Micky Ward you have Pat Solitano Jr. (Cooper). Pat caught his wife sleeping with another man and eventually his bi-polar disorder was diagnosed shortly thereafter. Pat wants to get back with his ex-wife, but his world changes when he is introduced to Tiffany Maxwell (Lawrence). Tiffany's sister is friends with Pat's ex and he hopes that through his bond with Tiffany, he can reconnect with his wife. The movie leads to a football game, a dance contest, and probably one of the most heartfelt and relatable on-screen romances I've seen.
The film is part comedy, part drama, part romance, etc. etc. etc. It's a great hodge-podge of feelings and emotions with scenes of what I'm sure to the filmmakers were full of great complexity. Yet it's totally believable that Pat Junior and Senior would be feuding one moment and the next one of them is chasing a neighbor in his underwear. Not to compare to other filmmakers, but O. Russell's films always seem like a Sundance-generation of Stanley Kubrick or Billy Wilder to me (there are others who fit the bill for what I'm describing). Not at all in style. I mean how Kubrick could have a film likes Paths of Glory where soldiers are laughing and then crying at a German singer or Full Metal Jacket where R. Lee Ermey's semi-hilarious rantings lead to Private Pyle's descent into madness; of course Wilder's The Apartment is pretty much the definitive 'dramedy' and some of his other films always had that hint of irony like Ace in the Hole or Sunset Boulevard.
O. Russell is just as seamless at blending the ridiculous with the reality. Spanking the Monkey is as taboo as Flirting with Disaster is screwball. The craziness of war is represented in Three Kings and then I Heart Huckabees is well... out there. The Fighter has the energy of all of those films, but is more straightforward in its focus on typical relationships (brother, mother, girlfriend). At the risk of over-hyperbole, Silver Linings almost feels like a great culmination of much of his work. A guy beats the man his wife left him for, goes to a home for therapy, comes out and believes he can get his wife back? That's irony and O. Russell seems to revel in it as a storyteller.
The film's characters are completely enlightened by their portrayers. De Niro reminds us of how engaging he can be when given such great parts and his crazy football-fan of a father is a welcome return to the thoughtful and sometimes intense performances of us his earlier days. Cooper conveys so much as he moves from confidence to doubt and his acting is incredibly in-tune with Lawrence's explosive, beautiful, and heartbreaking work. In all, it's a damn good movie full of unfiltered wackiness and a 'heart wants what the heart wants' type of romance that I hope others can recognize for its compassionate, loving, and timeless nature.