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Review: Silver Linings Playbook

I’m a sucker for a good love story.

“Good” being the key word. These days, movie theaters and TV stations are saturated with a glut of formulaic, by-the-numbers glurge–transparently manipulative, emotionally unsatisfying, and infuriatingly financially-successful. I don’t demand that every cinematic love story aspire to be a work of breathtaking originality; I just prefer the ones that have an interesting narrative hook.

David O. Russell rises to the occasion with Silver Linings Playbook, an enthusiastic, optimistic, and triumphant reconstruction of the old-fashioned romantic comedy (or “dramedy,” in this case). As one would expect of the well-worn genre, the plot is driven by a series of obstacles, misunderstandings, and tearful reconciliations, but Russell eschews the traditional complications (disapproving parents, douchey rival boyfriends) in favor of meaningful, insightful, compassionate characterization. Bradley Cooper’s Pat–recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder–stubbornly clings to the delusion that, through a strict regiment of self-improvement (both physical and spiritual), he will be able to impress his estranged wife enough to salvage their failed marriage; he finds a kindred spirit (though he initially refuses to acknowledge it) in Jennifer Lawrence’s Tiffany, a grieving widow whose crippling depression drives her towards increasingly self-destructive behavior. From this seemingly cynical setup, the Oscar-nominated director weaves a genuine, funny, and heartfelt tale about human beings who refuse to allow mental illness and emotional baggage to define who they are/dictate their future.

Silver Linings Playbook disassembles the classic genre recipe only to deftly, effortlessly put it back together again, and while it offers few true surprises, it always feels fresh, honest, and deeply rewarding.

[Originally written January 11, 2013.]

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