The memorable tagline for Woody Allen's 1977 comedy Annie Hall was "a nervous romance."
Call Silver Linings Playbook a bipolar romance.
Director-screenwriter David O. Russell (The Fighter) has not, strictly speaking, made a romantic comedy here. But there is romance and comedy in Russell's adaptation of Matthew Quick's novel, as well as an occasionally affecting vein of domestic drama.
Bradley Cooper plays Pat Solitano, a former schoolteacher obliged, due to his bipolar disorder, to observe a restraining order keeping him from his workplace and his estranged wife.
Released from the mental institution where he has been committed following a violent encounter with his wife's lover, Pat is manically resolved to put his life together, with the ultimate goal of reuniting with the understandably fearful missus.
He's got the help of his supportive mom (Jacki Weaver) and his retired dad, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro), a bookie with a neurosis of his own in the form of a persistent case of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
But the playbook has some faulty strategies. He goes off his meds, making him susceptible to violent rages.
Accepting a friend's dinner invitation, Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), the widow of a dead cop who has made some regrettable choices of her own, including sleeping around with a multitude of co-workers in a desperate attempt to fill the emotional void left by her husband.
Something sparks between the two. Tiffany tells Pat she needs a partner for an upcoming ballroom dance competition. She makes a deal that she will deliver Pat's imploring letter to his ex in exchange for his dance services. A deal is struck.
While refusing to become romantically involved, Pat does commit to the extent that he interferes with his dad's relationship with the Philadelphia Eagles. Pat Sr.'s own weird compulsion leads him to believe the home team has a better chance to win if Pat Jr. is watching the game by his side.
Russell explored the blue-collar territory of romance and family dysfunction more effectively in The Fighter, which also had the benefit of a thematic connection to the world of boxing. Having the movie drive towards a climactic ballroom dance-competition seems a silly, out-of-left-field contrivance by comparison.
Speaking of slight, Bradley Cooper here again tries to prove his dramatic mettle after the vaguely embarrassing literary tearjerker The Words. While not horribly miscast, he doesn't pass muster as dangerously unstable. Cooper registers as a light comedy actor out of his element.
In fact, when it comes to projecting a sense of danger, he is rather forcefully blown off the screen by Jennifer Lawrence, whose laser-like gaze is far more suggestive of roiling inner turmoil.
Like its hero, Silver Linings Playbook has a tough time finding its balance. Alas, for the movie, the issue becomes insurmountable.
Excerpts from select reviews of Silver Linings Playbook:
"This marvellously eccentric romantic comedy demonstrates that smart, high-quality, mainstream entertainment for grown-ups has not yet, and hopefully never will, perish entirely from the earth."
-- Corey Hall, Orlando Weekly
"A lot of critics have lost their proverbial cool over Silver Linings Playbook, a rom-com about mental illness, ballroom dancing and the Philadelphia Eagles. I wish I knew why. It's a slow, repetitive, meandering, mostly overacted little picture -- perfectly agreeable but nothing special, and directed with a steamroller by David O. Russell. Go figure."
-- Rex Reed, New York Observer
"David O. Russell has pulled off a tricky feat here, finding just the right tone in crafting a romantic comedy whose sweethearts suffer from bipolar disorder and depression."
--Christy Lemire, The Associated Press
"It's lopsided and spotty, but it's alive in a way that suddenly makes you remember to what degree most Hollywood movies aren't."
-- Dana Stevens, Slate
Silver Linings Playbook
Starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence
óè 122 minutes
'Ö'Ö'Ö out of five