You could say Pat Solitano doesn't have much going for him. Freshly yanked by his mom from a mental hospital after having been locked away for beating his wife's lover nearly to death, he's broke, socially awkward and directionless. An otherwise good guy who's prone to violent outbursts when he's off his meds — which he always does his best to be — he's not allowed to use a phone or contact his estranged wife.
On top of all that, he basis his self esteem on the performance of the perennially underachieving Philadelphia Eagles. When the team loses, as it always does, his crazytown dad blames him for not sitting in the right chair.
Playing a pitiable, psychologically damaged goofball is something new for Bradley Cooper, who is usually cast as a wise-cracking con man in The Hangover movies or the heroic stud in thrillers, like The A-Team, Limitless. For once, he's the guy to laugh at instead of with, but he's so aw-shucks earnest that you feel bad for chuckling at his failures.
Well, you feel bad for a while, until he starts hooking up with Jennifer Lawrence. And not just any Jennifer Lawrence, an emotionally unstable, sexually aggressive, highly flexible, spandex-wearing version of Jennifer Lawrence. Then you're convinced that whatever problems he's got don't mean nothin' and he's the luckiest bastard on the planet.
Lawrence's character is named Tiffany. She's a widow in her early 20s whom her sister (Julia Stiles) regards as a big enough loser to hook up with Pat, the best pal of her henpecked husband.
Yes, you read that right. That's Saved the Last Dance Julia Stiles, in an actual acting role in an actual movie. Silver Linings Playbook is something like a lost and found of good actors, including Chris Tucker. Yes, that's Friday "and you know this, maaan!" Ice Cube's sidekick Chris Tucker, acting in his first movie in half a decade, and his second in the last 11 years.
To that lost and found actor list you can also add Good Script Choosing Robert De Niro, who had been kidnapped by aliens 20 years ago and swapped out for Awful Script Choosing Robert De Niro. It's nice to have Good Script Choosing Robert De Niro back, if only for a moment.
Finding and sticking with the right tone in a black comedy like this is tough, but director David O. Russell, who's worked it in Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees, The Fighter, knows what he's doing. Sure, the Lawrence character is unrealistic — someone who is born not of flesh and blood but horny screenwriters' late-night fantasies. But it doesn't matter. She works in the film, either as a necessary narrative conduit for Cooper's self-discovery arc, or because she's Jennifer Lawrence in spandex. Not sure which.
A story device straight out of a 1980s high school comedy gets Tiffany to bribe Pat into training with her for a dance competition, and their training montages are intercut with the Eagles' season. No doubt the deleted scenes will show a disgruntled Stiles staring holes through Lawrence's spandex, bitter that the last dance is not saved for her in this movie.
You can tell where the romantic comedy part of the movie is going all along — gee, will Pat stop obsessing over his wife and fall for Jennifer Lawrence in Spandex? — but it doesn't matter, because the movie is funny and smart enough to distract you away from its nonsensical silliness.
Either that or because it's got Jennifer Lawrence in spandex.
Starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker and Julia Stiles. Written by David O. Russell and Matthew Quick. Directed by Russell. 120 minutes. Rated R.