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Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013 02:00 pm

Linings Cooper, Lawrence shine

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Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany and Bradley Cooper as Pat Solitano in Silver Linings Playbook.

Pat Jr. (Bradley Cooper) has a lot on his mind. His mother Delores (Jacki Weaver) has just sprung him from a mental institution after an eight-month stay. Seems, at home he had walked in on his wife Nikki (Brea Bee) and a co-worker taking a shower and nearly beat the guy to death. Well, can you really blame him? Problem is, he’s been suffering from a bipolar disorder all of his life which, up until this incident, was undiagnosed. Still, while institutionalized he’s gotten good advice, is intent on turning negatives into positives and feels that if he can stay the course, he can create a silver lining for his life. Now, all he wants to do is win his wife back. Of course, there is the issue of the restraining order … that might be a problem.

Pat Jr. isn’t the only one suffering. Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) is also dealing with her world being turned upside down. A widow at 24, she’s trying to put her life back together, though her reckless behavior obscures this. A series of meaningless sexual encounters earns her a reputation she doesn’t deserve and the anger, bred from confusion and frustration that erupts from her now and again, does her no favors. But she’s found a release through dancing and is intent on entering a ballroom competition. Problem is, she has no partner. However, the solution is Pat Jr. whom she blackmails into helping her, promising to contact his wife on his behalf.

In adapting Matthew Quick’s novel to the screen in Silver Linings Playbook, director David O. Russell (Three Kings, The Fighter) has succeeded in pulling off a high-wire act that involves juggling a variety of different tones and issues and rendering each of them with sincerity. That he’s able to make a climax replete with clichés work somehow is all the more remarkable. Grief, mental illness, family dysfunction and denial all get their turn under the microscope here, each given the requisite amount of gravity but ultimately seen through a lens of optimism and hope.

What’s interesting about the film is that nearly every character is on edge and it becomes obvious that each of them is just one unguarded moment away from going down the same road Pat Jr. did. Chief among them is Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) who has his own anger and obsessive compulsive disorder  problems. He’s been banned from attending Philadelphia Eagles games for excessive fighting in the stadium. He believes the remote controls must be in their proper places and Eagles handkerchief must be held just right if they’re to win.

While Russell does a masterful job of sustaining the proper tone throughout, he’s also an expert at casting and knows well enough to get out of their way and let his actors perform. Cooper is very good here, proving here he’s more than just another hunk with a hit comedy under his belt. De Niro has never been more likable or sympathetic. His character comes to realize that the sins of the father have been visited on his son. Chris Tucker as Danny, Pat Jr.’s friend whom he met while institutionalized, shows he’s capable of much more than wisecracks. But it’s Lawrence who steals the show. She has more than a few spotlight moments and she makes every one count. Chief among them is a scene in which she invades Pat’s home and puts everyone in their place. The actress commands the room, with even De Niro staying out of the way to let her shine. It’s a star-making moment if there ever was one, yet Lawrence’s fiercely delivered sense of honesty is what makes it work.

At one point, Pat Jr. tells Tiffany that perhaps they know something about life that others don’t because of their experiences. This is worth remembering as each is able to emerge stronger for having been where they were and are able to live their lives with a sense of awareness that others are afraid to embrace. This is their silver lining, one that was hard won and ultimately worth the trials they were forced to endure. That salvation through introspection is possible is the theme of this wonderful film and that it is rendered with such optimism and sincerity makes it special and unique.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org

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