When I was a teenager (ah, the magical 50s) a weekend staple was the “date movie.” Such films usually featured the ever-pert and chaste Doris Day (Oscar Levant’s timeless quote – “I can remember Doris Day before she was a virgin”) and Rock Hudson (still in the closet). Lame even by the standards of the 50s, we still bought into these tepid romances. Oh how things have changed. “Silver Linings Playbook” wouldn’t make it past Hollywood’s old morality police, but is a “date movie” for our times designed to appeal to those of any age, dating or otherwise. Its charms are the result of smart writing, an original story and real chemistry between a couple you know are destined to finally get together – no matter the speed bumps along the way – and characters quirky enough to be entertaining but without crossing the line into sitcom caricatures.
Pat (Bradley Cooper) has just been sprung from a mental health facility by his mother Delores (Jacki Weaver). He is a serious head case who has spent eight months institutionalized, thanks to an incident where he failed to keep his explosive temper in check. His father, Pat Sr. (Robert DeNiro), is a bookmaker and rabid Philadelphia Eagles fan who is less than happy to see his namesake return home. His suspicion that Pat is far from being cured is reinforced when Pat barges into their bedroom at 4 A.M. one morning and delivers an extended rant on how Hemingway screwed up the ending of “A Farewell to Arms.” Along with being a nocturnal literary critic, Pat is an obsessive/ compulsive personality with a short fuse. He spends most of his time jogging through his parent’s working class neighborhood with a trash bag for a poncho, brooding about his ex-wife Nicki. He is convinced that if he works hard enough at being “normal” Nicki will welcome him back.
One night Pat crosses paths with his best friend’s sister-in-law at a dinner party. Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) is a loose cannon with a penchant for the outrageous in both word and deed. A woman whose proclaimed sexual liberality knows few boundaries, she has only one real goal in life – competing in Philadelphia’s annual amateur night dance contest. Pat, who constantly pines for Nicki, does everything to avoid Tiffany, but they continue to cross paths as they are out jogging. But wait! Will the stars align for these two misfits? Who will Tiffany pick for her bargain basement “Dirty Dancing” partner? Sorry, pencils down. Time’s up.
Okay, “Silver Linings Playbook” may not pack any real plot surprises, but it is a clever and off-beat take on what could have been nothing more than a standard formula film. It uses wit instead of tired, recycled jokes which would only amuse a laugh track. While laced with profanity it is never raunchy; and is populated with an eclectic assortment of characters you care about. Bradley Cooper (“The Hangover”), in an impressive show of acting, demonstrates that he is much more than a Hollywood pretty boy. Jennifer Lawrence, who was so impressive in “Winters Bone” (loyalty to my granddaughter requires me to also point out that she was in “Hunger Games”) continues on a roll. She adroitly balances Tiffany’s dark, take-no-prisoners personality with the vulnerability of a woman who is slowly trying to extricate herself from personal chaos. Made in only 33 days at the modest cost of $21 million, “Silver Linings Playbook” is an example of how one can make a popular feature without breaking the bank or churning out another spiritless clone. Enjoyable from beginning to end.
DVD Pick – For a 50s romance that will never age, you can’t do better than “Sabrina” (1954), directed by the legendary Billy Wilder with the incomparable Audrey Hepburn as a modern day Cinderella.
Bill Paterson is of counsel to Ferguson Case Orr Paterson LLP in Ventura.