Dancing in the Dark

Silver Linings Playbook: adapted by David O. Russell from the novel by Matthew Quick; directed by David O. Russell; starring Bradley Cooper (Pat), Jennifer Lawrence (Tiffany), Robert de Niro (Pat Sr.), Jacki Weaver (Dolores), and Chris Tucker (Danny) (2012): While not the most realistic depiction of mental illness in movie history, Silver Linings Playbook does have its heart in the right place insofar as Bradley Cooper’s character really does need to take his meds. Jennifer Lawrence, not so much. And ballroom dancing isn’t presented as a cure for all forms of mental illness, though at times it seems awfully close.

Lawrence, who won the Best Actress Oscar for 2012 for her role in this movie, is very good. She’s developed some sort of weird muscle control that gives her a mask-like face at times, the features softening at others. Is it acting or is it Botox? I don’t know. But it works with the character, whose depression precedes the death of her husband, after whose death things fall completely apart.

Cooper is also excellent. He nails the delusional rhythms of mania, the boundless delusional energy. And he conveys the subsequent exhaustion nicely as well. He’s a sharp actor with surprising depths. He sells certain aspects of his mental problems without recourse to exposition, and rings true throughout. Robert de Niro is anachronistically measured and controlled as Pat’s occasionally delusional, OCD-afflicted father, and Jacki Weaver shines as Pat’s long-suffering mother, who seems to be the only fully sane person in the movie.

The fairy-tale quality of Silver Linings Playbook probably irked a lot of people who deal with mental-health issues on a daily basis. And it really is a fairy tale, though thankfully one with a certain measure of permanent darkness. Most of the comedy flows from plausible scenarios — I especially liked Pat repeatedly waking his parents up at 3 a.m. to rant about a novel he’d just read. And Pat’s obsession with his estranged wife’s high-school English course syllabus rings true as well, something that’s funny from the outside but also a symptom of deep mental distress.

Ultimately, Silver Linings Playbook is a romantic comedy about severely screwed-up people, and if it’s not truly realistic, it’s still a more laudable portrayal of characters with mental-health problems than, say, the ludicrous A Beautiful Mind. Recommended.

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