It’s hard making movies about the mentally ill. While there are plenty of “fun-crazy” or “scary-crazy” characters in movies who are quite entertaining, it turns out that real mental illness is a real downer, so the more realistic a movie is on the subject, the harder it is to watch. The fix most filmmakers turn to is that whenever the mood needs lightening or the script demands it, the character simply stops being crazy and starts being romantic, or heroic, or whatever the plot calls for. This is the trap “Silver Linings Playbook” falls into and never escapes.
Bradley Cooper plays Pat, a bipolar patient fresh out of a mental hospital. He is manic as hell, brimming with unrealistic ideas about getting his old job and wife back, and he goes running every day, wearing a garbage bag to make him sweat. Friends introduce him to Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a depressed, young widow whose main pathology is that she screws anyone who will pay her a little attention. They become friends, and she convinces Pat to help her compete in a ballroom-dance contest. Together, gradually, the two help each other become slightly less crazy.
Overall, the movie works, but what starts as a pretty honest portrayal of mental illness devolves into pretty standard romantic comedy fare. Robert De Niro plays Pat’s father, chewing scenery and making faces like he always does. Cooper and Lawrence, however, are both outstanding, with great on-screen chemistry. I’m not convinced, however, that Lawrence really deserved a Best Actress Oscar for it, and the film definitely didn’t deserve a Best Picture Nomination. Maybe it just reflects a relatively weak year for this type of movie. In any event, “Silver Linings Playbook” is enjoyable enough to watch, but I wasn’t crazy about it.
2.5 stars out of 5