“When life reaches out with a moment like this, it’s a sin if you don’t reach back.”

Thirteen years ago, a film boldly declared that on a long enough timeline, the survival rate of everyone drops to zero. In the thirteen years in between then and now, I’m beginning to believe that not only is everyone’s survival rate at risk, but even more so is the risk of their emotional stability and mental health. Year-in and year-out it seems as though life deals us shitty hand after shitty hand, just waiting for us to fold for good…or make a lousy bet and lose it all.

When we reach that point on the timeline, the question we have to ask ourselves is how we are supposed to gather and move forward. An even better question might be whether or not losing our emotional stability – and likewise losing that big hand – might in fact be a good thing?

As the film begins, Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) is released early from a mental health facility. He got there by assaulting a man his wife was sexually involved with. Now the court have deemed him competent enough to be remanded to his family’s care, and his mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver) has come to take him home. There he begins the process of healing and getting his life back in order. He has no job, no relationship, and is living with his parents. If he hasn’t hit rock-bottom, he can at least see it from where he’s sitting.

The healing process has him spending a lot of time around his father Pat Sr. (Robert DeNiro). Talk to The Older Pat for five minutes and you’ll realize that he too isn’t right in the head. The difference is that he chooses to deny it, and his assaults have only resulted in restraining orders. Pat Jr. sees everything around him and knows that he needs to get better. He wants to take control and in so doing, hope that good things can come to a person willing to put in the effort.

One of the good things that does come his way is a new friend, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). Tiffany is just about as messed-up as Pat is, but not so damaged that she was sent to a psych ward. Tiffany’s husband died suddenly, and she lashed out by sleeping around with anyone that would have her.

When she meets Pat at a dinner party, she sees something in him. It’s something unhinged, unkempt, and uncouth, but it’s something. Before long, she strikes up a friendship with Pat, and offers to help him get enough of his act together that he’ll be able to go face to face with his wife and explain himself.

The question that remains to be answered, is what that help will cost Pat…and what’s in it for Tiffany.

In trying to articulate what I love so much about SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, I keep coming back to the way in which it makes its genre work for it, instead of complacently taking a slot within the genre. It’s easiest to describe the film as a romantic comedy, but the truth is that it leans heavier on the comedy than the romance. All the while, it is most definitely a story of connection. It’s a coming together of two wickedly screwed-up people, and watching as they collectively try to solve the jigsaw puzzles their individual lives have become. The film isn’t interested in will-they-or-won’t-they so much as it wants us to see the absurdity that sparks when crazy people gather in groups. Just as expected, the absurdity flows freely…but so too does the honesty.

That honesty that allows people to admit that they are broken. It’s that same honesty that gives them the strength to want to get better. For some, getting better means going away and working with clearer heads. For others, getting better means playing through the pain, and going right after the things that caused them to crack. Then there’s the whole other class of broken people who don’t want to admit that they are broken. Pat, is the former; a guy who knows where he fucked up, and a guy who wants to try to make things right. What’s interesting is that he describes his goals as “silver linings”. Pat isn’t just trying to reclaim what he lost, he is hoping that if he does his part, that something – anything – good will come his way. It’s a great lesson to take away.

In a way, this growth is symbolized nicely in the dance competition Pat and Tiffany enter. It doesn’t give anything away to say that they aren’t looking to win. Instead they are hoping to come away with something specific achieved, and if they can do that then they will have done what they set out to do and achieved their goal. It takes a certain type of person to stand up and say “I’m not in it to win it”, and instead to measure themselves by the yardstick they set out for themselves. That’s not to suggest that the competition is completely virtuous, but the fact that it centres on small victories illustrates how much there is to be gained by reaching for a specific bar…and doing it surrounded by people who care about you.

All of these ideas and realizations would be wonderful enough in “any old film”, but the fact that they are in a film that executes so. damned. well. is what makes SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK a special film. Like its characters, it isn’t content to sit back and be “good enough”. It wants to show us what is possible when a little effort is applied – effort in acting, in directing, in writing, look, and pace. It’s a surprisingly well-crafted film from director David O. Russell, who has suddenly found himself on a hot streak.

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK is a reminder of what’s possible. The things we want might be out of reach, that doesn’t mean that good things can’t still come from reaching anyway. In that same vein, the film itself is a reminder that no film should be content to stay within its margins. Sure, it can label itself as funny, or scary, or romantic, or thrilling, and fight within the weight class of its choosing. Or, it can aim to transcend its label. By doing that, by not being content with its station, it has the chance to be something special…something unexpected…and perhaps something great.

Matineescore: ★ ★ ★ ★ out of ★ ★ ★ ★
What did you think? Please leave comments with your thoughts and reactions on SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK.