In Silver Linings Playbook (2012; dir. David O. Russell) four main characters carry the film. Jacki Weaver is excellent as the worried and sometimes frightened mother who gets her bipolar son released early from the mental institution where he has been under treatment for six months. The look in her eyes makes clear that she doesn’t know what to expect of him (and of her husband, played by Robert De Niro) from one moment to the next. Bradley Cooper as the explosively bipolar Pat, and Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany, hyperactive and depressed over the death of her husband, are excellent. Without these characters, the hackneyed plot would be more evident—a young man who must recover from adversity and prove his worth; a young woman quietly seeking the attention of a man who often doesn’t seem to know she exists; two young people who are meant for each other but who first have to realize the fact.
Cooper is convincing as the young man struggling to recover and regain his equilibrium. But Lawrence was the best element in the film. She’s absolutely convincing. She brings an intensity and credibility to the role that makes us wonder how close to life it is.
This comic romance, with all its charms (and I did enjoy it) depends on our willingness to laugh at the difficulties and mishaps of the mentally ill. Part of our interest in Pat lies in our uncertainty about what he is going to do next—his fits of temper, his bursts of outrage (he is outraged when he gets to the end of Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms and wakes his parents at 2:30 in the morning to throw a fit). His wife has taken out a restraining order against him. In the first half of the film he is constantly on the verge of doing something that will get him sent back to the institution. All these episodes and outbursts are funny and entertaining. But my sense is that for those in mental and emotional distress, they are not so funny.