With his first two pictures—1994’s Spanking the Monkey
and 1996’s Flirting With Disaster
—director David O. Russell showed a mastery of familial discomfort, bringing to life the hilarity of tense situational extremes. In his mainstream work—the excellent boxing drama The Fighter
and war-film deconstruction Three Kings
—he demonstrated a keen eye for the comic potential of the self-destruction of the family unit. With Silver Linings Playbook
, Russell revisits these themes and emerges with one of filmdom’s funniest stories of crippling manic depression. If Frank Capra had made an R-rated flick for the Prozac generation, it would look like this. The film follows the social reacclimation of Philly schoolteacher Pat (Bradley Cooper), who is institutionalized after beating his wife’s lover half to death. Pat forms an unlikely relationship with widow Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who doggedly tries to win his affections despite the fact that he’s set on winning back the unwilling wife. Silver Linings
strikes a delicate balance. This is a film that invites uncomfortable giggles at mental illness before exploding into frightening reality, as when a meet-cute segues into a terrifying domestic incident, with Cooper delivering an Oscar-caliber breakdown set to a Led Zeppelin song. As Pat’s loving dad with a history of violence, Robert De Niro lends a crushing and funny layer to an already marvelously dense story. As a family drama, Silver Linings
is top tier. As a romance, it’s blissfully unconventional. And as a foulmouthed ode to classic Hollywood, well, Capra would have fucking approved.