Almost all romantic comedies have a heart, but not so many have a soul. Even fewer possess guts, and almost none brandish a well-honed edge. David O. Russell's brilliant 'Silver Linings Playbook,' however, is that rare gem of a flick that not only has it all, but also shamelessly flaunts it. An impeccably constructed, superbly executed piece of work that stimulates the mind, stirs emotions, and effortlessly entertains from start to finish, this captivating Best Picture nominee buoys us up like only the finest films can. With rich, dimensional, authentic, and embraceable characters, identifiable situations, and enough quirkiness to set it apart from its bland, white-bread cousins, this is the type of movie you hate to see come to an end. And once it's finished, all you want to do is instantly watch it all over again.
Calling 'Silver Linings Playbook' a romantic comedy unfairly categorizes it, but it's hard to label this sometimes searing, often joyous, and ultimately touching story. At its core, Russell's film is really a cogent study of learning to accept, live with, and adapt to mental illness through the rejuvenating love and support of family and friends, and it uses humor as a conduit into the darker aspects of the disease. While it never sugarcoats the afflictions and challenges facing the main characters (obsession, depression, repressed anger, and OCD, to name a few), the movie doesn't wallow in them. Always life-affirming and always as positive as the attitude hero Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper) ceaselessly tries to adopt, 'Silver Linings' quickly reels us in, and its free-wheeling attitude and irresistible romantic trajectory temper the serious elements percolating beneath the surface.
As the story opens, Pat gains his release from a state mental hospital, yet he still suffers from bipolar mood swings and is haunted by the infidelity of his estranged wife, Nikki, with whom he remains hopelessly obsessed. Pat moves back in with his mother (Jacki Weaver) and father (Robert De Niro) in suburban Philadelphia, but struggles to combat his demons and find the elusive silver lining he ardently believes to be attainable. "One incident can change a lifetime," his therapist tells him, and little does Pat know that incident would be an intimate dinner party at the home of his best friend. There he meets the spunky, outspoken Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a young widow with "poor social skills" whose bluntness, belligerence, and impulsive behavior intrigue him. The two forge an awkward relationship, hindered by Pat's attachment to Nikki (and delusional belief they will someday reunite) and Tiffany's tempestuous nature. Add to that the all-consuming culture of the Philadelphia Eagles, learning to bond with his bookmaking dad, a ballroom dance competition that forces him to release his inner Patrick Swayze, and staying out of trouble so he doesn't get sent back to the loony bin, and Pat's already full cup seems ready to runneth over and upset the delicate balance of his tenuous existence and that of those he holds dear.
Russell brings the same grit, warmth, and perception he brought to 'The Fighter' to 'Silver Linings Playbook,' albeit with a slightly lighter touch. Once again nailing the combustible dynamics of a blue collar family, the writer-director lets the passions, foibles, neuroses, and deep attachments of the characters drive the film, and the comedy naturally emanates from their heightened behavior. Very few snappy one-liners or cute, contrived situations clutter Russell's screenplay, which he adapted from Matthew Quick's novel. Even though some of the action follows a formulaic pattern and some of the roles are stereotypes, the action always feels real and the underlying issues and emotions are extremely relatable. Russell also perfectly balances the many textures and tones that comprise the film. It's tough to juggle comedy, drama, romance, family strife, mental illness, sports mania, gambling, and the world of ballroom dance, but somehow Russell seamlessly sews them all into the movie's tightly woven fabric.
Great writing makes a film great, but the words can't recite themselves. A stellar cast is required to truly realize a work's potential, and the ensemble assembled here is one of the major ingredients of the movie's success. All four main actors received well-deserved Academy Award nominations in each of the four acting categories - the first time that's happened since Warren Beatty's 'Reds' in 1981. Cooper files his best work to date, fully realizing all of Pat's infirmities yet never turning him into a goofy caricature. Always adept at comedy and the quintessential hunky leading man, Cooper finally gets a chance to craft a full-bodied portrayal, and he embraces his character's complexities.
As does Lawrence, who rightfully won the Best Actress Oscar for her alternately feisty and heartbreaking performance. Mixing vulnerability with brazen boldness, the young actress proves she's mature and talented beyond her years (of course, anyone who saw 'Winter's Bone' already knows that), and her magnetic presence makes it impossible to concentrate on anyone else while she's on screen. And that includes the wondrous De Niro, who, in my view, was flat-out robbed on Oscar night. (You were very good, Christoph Waltz, but De Niro still owned you!) Natural, funny, blustery, brutal, and achingly sensitive, De Niro - in two key scenes - is the one who will make you cry. Cooper and Lawrence may ignite the sparks and capture our fancy, but make no mistake, De Niro is the epicenter of this film, and his magnificent portrayal ranks among his finest...and that's saying something.
The marvelous Weaver also steals our heart and keeps the picture grounded as Pat's patient, supportive, and peace-keeping mom. If you didn't know better, you'd swear she and De Niro were also married off-screen, so comfortable is their chemistry. And though their roles are brief, it's nice to see Julia Stiles back as Tiffany's stuck-up sister and Chris Tucker in something other than a 'Rush Hour' film. Both assert themselves admirably in a truly admirable film.
Though I love and respect 'Lincoln,' 'Life of Pi,' and 'Argo,' and appreciate them all in different ways, for me, 2012 belongs to 'Silver Linings Playbook.' No other movie of that year evokes such a visceral emotional response, so completely soothes and nourishes the soul, or so fully stokes and uplifts the spirit. Without apology or excuse, Russell's film is unabashedly human, and with warmth and insight celebrates all the quirks and complexities that make us who we are. It also resoundingly proves that love - in so many shapes and forms - really can conquer all. And that's a silver lining for everyone.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Silver Linings Playbook' arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard case. Inside, there's the 50GB dual-layer Blu-ray disc, a standard-def DVD, and a leaflet with instructions on how to download the Ultraviolet Digital Copy. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and default audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Once the disc is inserted into the player, previews for 'Django Unchained,' 'The Master,' and 'A Late Quartet,' as well as a fashion commercial, immediately pop up, followed by the full-motion menu with music.
A natural-looking, vibrant, and crystal clear transfer helps immerse us in the lives of these finely etched characters. The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 effort from Anchor Bay is, at times, dazzlingly sharp, especially during close-ups, which exude high levels of detail without appearing artificial. Contrast is perfectly pitched, creating a fine sense of depth, grain is almost totally absent, and no specks or scratches mar the pristine source material. Though the color palette remains rather muted, the green accents on the Philadelphia Eagles jerseys possess some pop, black levels are strong, and fleshtones are solid.
Background elements show up exceedingly well, with designs in the wallpaper and grain in the diner's wood paneling sporting high degrees of detail. Shadow delineation is good, although some low-lit scenes look a little murky. Errant softness also rears its ugly head now and then, but no banding, noise, or pixelation creep into the picture at any time, and no digital enhancements could be detected. On the whole, this is a top-flight transfer that showcases the suburban Philly environment and people who populate it with an admirable eye for realism and lack of pretense.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track won't blow you away - this is, after all, a largely intimate film - but the crisp, clear sound possesses plenty of presence and resonance. Surround activity is subtle, but evident, with accents such as doorbells and knocks lending an expansive feel to the track. Front channel stereo separation also widens the soundscape, and a broad dynamic scale allows the audio to ebb and flow without any risk of distortion. The rears really come alive when any music is played, be it Danny Elfman's understated score or any of the familiar pop tunes littering the track.
Dialogue is the most important aspect of the audio, however, and this mix balances it perfectly. Even when multiple people are talking at once (which happens surprisingly often here), words are distinct and easy to comprehend. The subwoofer doesn't get much of a workout, but the unobtrusive bass lends some nice weight to the track, and the more cacophonous sequences - looking for the wedding video, tailgating at the stadium, and the climactic dance-off - are all cleanly presented.
Though far from reference material, this is a high-quality audio presentation that punches up the visuals just enough to make a statement, yet never overshadows the action on screen.
A few good supplements round out the disc. An audio commentary would have really enhanced this package, but one is not included here.
'Silver Linings Playbook' was my favorite film of 2012, and this Blu-ray release only reinforces my deep affection for it. Impeccably written, keenly directed, and acted to perfection by an esteemed cast, this sensitive, involving, romantic, and humorous salute to the human condition deserved every Oscar nomination it got, and should have won more awards. Few films deliver such honest emotion or address issues with more perception and understanding yet still manage to entertain, but director David O. Russell effortlessly pulls off the feat. Excellent video and audio transfers, as well as a decent supplemental package, contribute to the extremely high recommendation this Best Picture nominee deserves. 'Silver Linings Playbook' is without a doubt the feel-good movie of the year, and everyone with a heart should see it.