By Justine Desmond ‘13
What truly makes “Silver Lining’s Playbook” ripe for the awards is not just director and writer David O. Russell’s skilled adaptation of Matthew Quick’s worthy work of fiction, but the multidimensional character of “Tiffany” (Jennifer Lawrence). A disturbed and recently widowed woman who was fired from her job after having slept with the “whole office,” Tiffany is hardly the typical heroine. And yet somehow the audience still wants to root for her. Her main aspiration after her young, late husband’s death is to score well in a local Philadelphia dance contest, and to win the heart of Pat (Bradley Cooper).
Tiffany’s abruptness and candid nature is nearly immediately endearing. A role that could come across as annoying or crude is executed in such a way that no actress accept Lawrence could really fit the bill.
Yet the story mostly revolves around Pat, who has just left a mental institution in Baltimore to move back in with his parents (Jacki Weaver and Robert De Niro). Upon arriving home, Pat, who was put away for dealing one too many blows to his wife’s lover, is determined to win her back. Throughout the film, he is plagued by guilt and anger as he hears their wedding song both in reality and in his head. Only later in the film do we learn that she has filed a restraining order against him and has little intention of mending the relationship.
Set in the suburbs of Eagles’ territory in Philadelphia, the story not only brings to life Pat, his manic episodes, and the very real connection he has with Tiffany, but also brings to life the whole local community. Small details that Russell capitalizes on, like “homemades,” a local Italian snack, and the house itself—an actual local home in the Philadelphia area—really make the film a looking glass into what appears to be a very authentic Philadelphian community. Russell’s uncanny ability to provide the audience with this intimate feeling is established in his earlier films, including “The Fighter,” which portrayed the dark side of an Irish-Catholic community in Lowell, Massachusetts.
Mental illness is also an important theme woven into the film, yet as Russell indicated at a recent interview with “The Wrap,” a little goes a long way. He did not want either Pat or his father’s episodes to cast a shadow over the whole film. The manic anger of Pat’s father, who has been banned from the Eagles stadium after one too many brawls with opposing fans, is played down in the film. Though some critics think Russell was overly cautious, and mischaracterized the turbulence associated with bipolar disorder, it is important to keep in mind that Russell, as a father whose son has been diagnosed with the same disease, may have some insights we lack.