I am no fan of romantic comedies. Romance itself is a genre that is easy to screw up, though it’s one of my favorites if done well; but comedy? It’s called the lowest form of entertainment for a reason, and it’s got some of the laziest movies out there. Combining the two results in some of the most soul-deprived movies out there – something that, based off of the name of the genre, you think there should be an abundance of. The latest film from David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook, is a romantic comedy that doesn’t hesitate to deviate from the derivative whimsical tropes and atmospheres of other films of its genre. The drama portrayed is handled so well that you’ll sympathize with the characters and their dilemmas while also laughing at the absurdity of their actions and reactions to them, aided in no small part by the strong performances from the cast.
Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) is a bipolar teacher who returns home from a mental facility after several months due to having an episode upon discovering his wife having an affair. The transition back into society is one that Pat struggles with, as next to no one is quick to give him a second chance, including his father, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro); and his self-control has taken a critical blow. This is without mentioning his attempts to reconcile with his ex-wife, to little avail. When he meets a widow, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who also has problems of her own, the two form a love-hate symbiotic relationship to obtain from the other what they need.
The characters of Playbook are not always likeable people, and that’s because most all of them, to various extents, have flaws that make interaction with each other a struggle in itself, and they all use one another for their own selfish gains. Pat uses Tiffany to get to his ex-wife, his father uses him for football success due to superstitious beliefs, and Tiffany uses Pat (among others) to console her loneliness and to partake in a dance competition. Some of the scenes that show these issues are seriously toned, and perhaps hard to watch, and others are hilarious due to the mere craziness and/or witty repartee.
The characters maintain interest though, again, due to the performances from the leading cast. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence both balance humor and complex emotion, adding a level of depth to their characters even when the script fails to do so. Even Chris Tucker maintains some level of subtlety and enjoyment in comparison to his usual self. Miracles like that are achieved only be a touch of good direction.
Ultimately the movie succeeds in the same fashion that most great romantic comedies do – by never shying away from the darker and more intricate sides of romance, and by sparingly dipping into the clichés that plague the genre (although it delves into them somewhat towards the end). The characters and their relationships feel real, and that’s how you make a good screen romance – by touching people’s real emotions through realistic portrayals of such. That is the silver lining.