THE REEL: ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ is the movie of the year

Ben Conniff

Writer/director David O. Russell’s (“The Fighter,” “Three Kings”) latest picture tells the story of former Philadelphia schoolteacher Pat Solitano, Jr. (Bradley Cooper) who has just wrapped up a stint at a Baltimore mental hospital. Upon his return to Philly, Pat moves back in with his parents (Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver) in an effort to reconcile with his estranged wife.

But he gets thrown a curveball by the name of Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a girl with problems of her own who might just show Pat that no matter how down you are, if you really try, you’ve always got a shot at a “silver lining.”

Equal parts romantic comedy, dramatic examination of mental illness and love sonnet to the Philadelphia Eagles, “Silver Linings Playbook” is the most endearing, fascinating and entertaining movie of the year. This is all thanks to Russell’s razor-sharp script and direction, as well as marvelous performances from its leads.

I’ve seen a lot of work from Cooper and Lawrence, but this has to be my favorite movie from either of them. Cooper blew me away as Pat. He lives that character, effectively portraying all his quirky mannerisms. Pat’s a very well-written character and well-cast by Russell.

And not to sound cliché, but Lawrence truly is the girl on fire in 2012. From a star-making role in “The Hunger Games” to receiving awards attention for “Silver Linings Playbook,” this stunning young woman’s had a huge year. As Tiffany in “SLP,” Lawrence is a perfect counterbalance to Cooper’s Pat.

The madness of these two characters is what makes this film work. Seeing Pat and Tiffany react to one another is a delight because they aren’t perfect. Pat is looking for his perfect “silver lining” with his wife Nikki, but instead finds a new friend in Tiffany, who might not be what he expects, but turns out to be the “silver lining” that’s right for him.

I know it sounds sappy, but it’s an endearing character study that’s a blast to watch. Seeing them work together also makes me reflect on my own madness. Everyone has their quirks, and this film will remind you that you’re not alone. It takes a very down-to-earth approach that I’m certain will resonate with audiences. I actually felt like the Solitanos could be my next-door neighbors.

The supporting cast also turns in fine work here. The always-talented De Niro is wonderful as Pat Sr., Weaver is great as Pat’s ever-concerned mother Dolores, and Chris Tucker (you remember him, the guy from the “Rush Hour” films) is a riot as Danny, Pat’s friend from the mental hospital.

On the whole, “Silver Linings Playbook” exceeded my expectations to become one of my favorite films of the year, if not for all time. I think Alynda Wheat of People Magazine said it best in her review.

“Here’s what David O. Russell’s fiendishly witty, brash film isn’t: boring, safe or willing to let any of us forget a deceptively simple truth: ‘When life reaches out… it’s a sin if you don’t reach back,'” she wrote.

It’s a sin to miss this movie, too. Find out if it’s playing near you, and see it.