It took me a little while to attune myself to the Silver Linings Playbook’s (2012) off-kilter sense of humour, and I’ll admit I might not have hung in there as long as I did if I hadn’t been waiting for Jennifer Lawrence to appear! For the first 25 minutes or so, we follow ‘Patrick “Pat” Solatano, Jr.’ (Bradley Cooper), a man with bipolar disorder and serious anger issues who is released from a psychiatric hospital into his parents’ custody, after beating his wife’s lover half-to-death. Family dramedy isn’t really my cup-of-tea, and I was worried that the film was being a little too flippant about Pat’s condition… taking the Monk route, that I would characterise as “Mentally Ill People Do The Darndest Things!”… but then his best-friend’s wife (Julia Stiles) set him up on a blind-date with her bereaved sister ‘Tiffany’ (Lawrence), and the film morphed into a dark romantic comedy about two broken souls finding love (for each other, and hopefully themselves). What’s interesting to me from a writer’s perspective is that the story actually conforms quite closely to a traditional rom-com structure (there’s even a crucial dance competition in the finale!), but what makes it really stand out from the pack is the rawness of the emotions on display and the quality of the cast’s performances. It’s proof that sticking to an established formula can still produce excellent (even Oscar-worthy!) results, if you make bold enough character choices and cast committed actors who really understand their craft. It’s not a perfect film, of course, because there’s no such thing as perfection… but it’s certainly the funniest and most insightful modern romance I’ve seen since Fight Club.
Lawrence acts her heart out, of course, and holds her own against several more experienced actors… in a bonus feature sound bite, she refers to co-star Robert De Niro as one of the most amazing things that’s ever happened to cinema, but that description could just as easily be applied to Lawrence herself. I’m not surprised that she won several shiny awards for her work here, or that writer/director David O. Russell cast in her in his next project (the equally acclaimed American Hustle), and secured her as the lead in his forthcoming feature, Joy. As far as her character’s dress-sense goes, I wasn’t sure if she was actually supposed to be a Goth, of if she was simply in mourning for her husband… but Lawrence has stated in interviews that Tiffany’s appearance was originally intended to be more extreme: “We shot camera tests with her in heavy Goth makeup and those plaid punk dresses they wear, and Harvey [Weinstein] just freaked out”… so she kept the dark hair and black clothing, but toned the make-up down. According to Russell: “The way she carries herself, the Gothic cross – all these things permeated into her character, which is maybe the most messed-up girl on the block but also the most confident”. What’s interesting about Tiffany is that, much like ‘Alyssa’ in Chasing Amy, she’s unapologetic about her previous sexcapades, but looking to settle down and put that promiscuous reputation behind her. There’s a disarming frankness to the way that she and Pat communicate, that I really envy… though obviously they still keep some secrets from one another, or else there’d be no story!