Mad love: Passionate acting, lively writing spark unconventional, wildly entertaining ‘Silver Linings Playbook’

Micah Benson | Art Director

Romantic comedies are disappointing by nature. Their whole concept is based on reinventing love from scratch, despite the fact we’ve been obsessed with it for our entire existence.

But occasionally, one like “Silver Linings Playbook” comes along and gives us hope for the doomed genre. Directed by David Russell (“The Fighter”), the unpredictable character study doesn’t start out as a romantic comedy, but ends as a satisfying one.

It’s a winning combination of blunt, witty dialogue and charismatic acting, anchored by the chemistry between Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. Adapted from a novel by Matthew Quick, “Silver Linings” boasts a fresh script, opting for surprise instead of convention and cliché, with a cast giving it all resonance.

The supporting players include Robert De Niro, giving his best performance in years as a Philadelphia Eagles-obsessed father with obsessive-compulsive disorder, and a charming comeback role from Chris Tucker as the mentally unstable best friend.

That’s right, Chris Tucker is in something other than a “Rush Hour” movie — and he’s hilarious.

After an eight-month stint in a mental institution for beating his wife’s lover within an inch of his life, former teacher and “previously undiagnosed bi-polar” Pat Solitano Jr. (Cooper) is piecing his life back together.

He goes running in a black garbage bag (for maximum sweat) and reads every novel in his wife’s English syllabus in hopes of winning her back. Pat also inadvertently torments his parents (De Niro and Jacki Weaver) with manic outbursts and inane rants in the middle of the night.

Cooper’s lead performance is his first with a raw emotional depth to complement his signature likeability. He swings between volatile anti-hero and lovable screw-up with an impulsive energy and natural ability to deliver punch lines. Late one night, after finishing the Ernest Hemingway novel “A Farewell to Arms,” Pat hurls the book through his window and barges obliviously into his parents’ bedroom.

“I’m not going to apologize for this,” Pat says. “You know what I will do? I will apologize on behalf of Ernest Hemingway because that’s who’s to blame here.”

Then he meets Tiffany (Lawrence), an unbalanced widow who matches Pat’s uncensored comments and politically incorrect attitude blow for blow. After a few “chance encounters” and a disastrous date, the two strike an unconventional agreement involving secret letters, dance routines, sports betting and lots of Eagles football.

Cooper and Lawrence’s chemistry is palpable, stemming from a shared intensity and profane honesty that earned them both Oscar nominations. The two liked each other so much, they have already filmed another movie together — the Depression-era drama “Serena.”

Clever, unapologetic writing buoys the plot’s occasional implausibility.

“You have poor social skills. You have a problem,” Pat says.

Tiffany replies, “I have a problem? You say more inappropriate things than appropriate things.”

The luck-driven climax is easily accepted because the film justifies its happy ending. It’s like when Tiffany silences Pat Sr. with a surprisingly thorough argument about football statistics. He just shuts up and agrees.

But the opportunity to act opposite De Niro elevates everyone else’s performances. After more than a decade slogging through “Meet the Parents” sequels and petty B-list movies, De Niro finally has another worthwhile role.

As Pat Sr., De Niro is a ball of working-class neuroses. An obsessive-compulsive Eagles fan, he struggles to connect with his erratic son while balancing a career as a fledgling bookie, all while making sure Pat is wearing his lucky jersey and the remote controls are facing the right direction when the game starts.

Russell’s script continually embraces this kind of blaring symbolism. Pat and Tiffany are always running after one another, each literally chasing the other when they pull away. Not to mention Pat’s picture dangling below his brother’s above the family staircase, nailed back upright by the film’s end.

Maybe “Silver Linings Playbook” will signal a new era for romantic comedies, one spurning tired clichés in favor of more inventive storytelling. But for every “Love Actually” or “(500) Days of Summer,” there are 100 mindless Katherine Heigl flicks and “Insert Holiday Here”s.

More likely than not, “Silver Linings” is just a gleaming drop in the bucket.


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