Writer-director David O’Russell is destined for awards glory with this quirky romance about an emotionally bruised thirty-something struggling to piece his life together after the ultimate betrayal.
Adapted by Russell from the novel by Matthew Quick, Silver Linings Playbook embraces comedy and tragedy with equal fervour.
Joy walks hand in hand with heartbreaking loss and to appreciate pleasure, characters must first endure exquisite pain.
No-one is immune from an impromptu pummelling – certainly not school teacher Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), who returns home to discover his wife Nikki (Brea Bee) in the shower with another member of the faculty.
He batters his wife’s lover to a bloody pulp and is banished to a psychiatric facility for eight months as part of his plea bargain.
Pat emerges with a firmer grip on his bipolar disorder and mood swings – or so he thinks.
He returns home to Philadelphia to live to with his father Pat Sr (Robert De Niro) and mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver), who want their boy to find some stability.
However, Pat is determined to overcome his wife’s restraining order and win her back.
“Nikki’s waiting for me to get myself in shape and get my life in order,” he gushes.
Best friend Ronnie (John Ortiz), whose marriage to wife Veronica (Julia Stiles) has more downs than ups (“I’m not OK. Don’t tell anyone”), introduces Pat to his sister-in-law, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence).
She’s a young widow who reacted to her husband’s death by sleeping with all of her co-workers.
“I was a big slut, but I’m not anymore,” she tells Pat during an eventful first date.
Pat isn’t interested in Tiffany until he learns she could smuggle a letter to Nikki.
In return, Tiffany needs him to train as her partner for an amateur dance competition.
The subsequent rehearsals in her home studio salve old wounds, sow the seeds of fledgling romance and provide writer-director Russell with the foundations of a bittersweet jive through mental health issues and father-son miscommunication.
Silver Linings Playbook is a delight, harking back to adorably quirky and sweet comedies from director Russell’s early years, such as Spanking The Monkey and Flirting With Disaster.
Cooper proves he is more than a pretty face, exposing the fear and vulnerability behind his character’s torment, while Lawrence is luminous as a grief-scarred misfit who is terrified of opening her heart only to have it shattered again.
Supporting performances are excellent, including a remarkably restrained Chris Tucker as a fellow psychiatric patient who has a habit of leaving the facility without permission.
Molten screen chemistry between the leads and zinging one-liners ensure the film never drags its heels, even in the climactic dance-off that cha-chas rather too willingly to the beat of rom-com convention.
STAR RATING: ****