Silver Linings Playbook. I needn't have worried. I liked it....a lot.
After an eight month stay at a mental institution, Pat Solitano Jr. (Bradley Cooper) is finally released and moves back in with his parents, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) and Dolores (Jacki Weaver), at their home in Philadelphia. The incident that put him in the institution still hangs over Pat though, and though he's trying his best, he's struggling to adjust. His parents have their own issues going on while Pat tries his best to get back together with his wife, proving he's changed. It doesn't go particularly well until he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a young widow who struggled with sex addiction following her husband's tragic death. Tiffany offers a solution though; she'll help Pat get back together with Nikki if he helps her in an amateur dance competition that requires a partner. He bristles at first but decides to go along. Maybe these two can end up helping each other.
One of the most talented directors currently working, David O. Russell delivers a gem here. He earned a Best Director nod, ultimately losing to Ang Lee for Life of Pi. While it is a drama, it has some very funny moments. It isn't a drama or comedy, refusing to be hamstrung by either genre description, and it's the better for it. The drama, laughs and emotions come from the personal reality of the story. While the amateur dance competition seems a little out of left field, it isn't an issue. It fits in with the story effortlessly. 'Playbook' also deftly handles a story that focuses so heavily on mental health issues. Pat, Tiffany and others struggle with depression, addictions and other assorted things that can't be seen like a disease or a sickness. There aren't easily seen symptoms, but the diseases are very, very real. It's a human drama, and a good one.
An awards season darling, 'Playbook' didn't catch all that buzz because of any huge style, crazy cinematography or groundbreaking new storytelling technique. Plain and simple, it's the acting with a nomination for each of the Best Acting categories. Cooper and Lawrence aren't close age-wise at all, Cooper 37 and Lawrence 21 at the time of filming, but the age difference isn't an issue in the least. Talk about chemistry, it's pretty perfect every time they have a scene together. They drive each other nuts but can't quite get away each other. Cooper does a fine job showing a pissed off frustration at the world while still being sympathetic. Lawrence was the lone Oscar winner, taking the Best Actress award, and she deserves it. There are moments where her armor is up, protecting herself, but revealing her worries and concerns in these horrifically dramatic moments that are difficult to watch. Very likable actors in just about every part they do, and as the hearts of the film here, they don't disappoint.
Also earning supporting nominations were De Niro and Weaver. Of the two, I was more impressed with De Niro, his Pat Sr. an epic Philadelphia Eagles fan who lives on superstitions and luck, struggling with his own past demons and current issues while trying to help out his son. He has a scene late that's perfect with Lawrence, a confrontation that gets defused in a great back-and-forth. Weaver's role is more familiar but still worth watching, a mother who worries and worries about everyone around her. In some other key supporting parts look for a subdued Chris Tucker as Pat's friend from the institution, Anupam Kher as Dr. Cliff, Pat's psychiatrist, John Ortiz as Ronnie, a friend of Pat's who's married to Nikki's nagging sister (Julia Stiles), and Shea Whigham as Jake, Pat's older brother who doesn't know how to deal with his brother's mental health issues.
I liked the movie throughout, but I wasn't sure early on exactly where it was heading. It's never slow, but an episodic story that runs 122 minutes does cover a lot of ground. I never thought I would write this in a review, but the story really comes together as the amateur dance competition and the training for it steps to the forefront. Go figure. All the different personal issues come together in a scene that could have gone poorly if handled a little differently. It's high on emotion -- maybe a little too much -- but like so much else here, it works. Maybe it shouldn't, but it does. The dance competition ends up being a great scene and a fitting finale. I'm not one who is typically in favor of a movie having a happy ending, but this is one where it is required/necessary. Great ending to a really good movie with a handful of worthwhile acting performances.
Silver Linings Playbook (2012): *** 1/2 /****