Verdict: Four out of five stars. Despite the Hollywood-ised ending, Silver Linings Playbook proves worthy of  its eight Oscar nominations with a nuanced, moving and often very funny examination of not just mental illness, but the things that drive us to the brink of breakdown. Jennifer Lawrence gives an astonishing performance as an older woman that belies her young age, aided by an excellent chemistry with Bradley Cooper. If there was any doubt that she was a superstar, this performance will surely convince the skeptics. 
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"She's only 21, she's only 21, she's only 21..." ©The Weinstein Company

“I’m 38, she’s only 21, I’m 38, she’s only 21…” ©The Weinstein Company

“I’m going to take all this negativity and I’m going to find the silver lining,” declares former teacher Pat (Bradley Cooper), a recently discharged psychiatric patient. Going home to live with American football-obsessed dad Pat Senior (Robert De Niro) and mom Dolores (Jacki Weaver), Pat has the proverbial issues. He discovered his wife Nikki (Brea Bee) in the shower with another man, whom he beat nearly to death. Pat was then diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and had a restraining order filed against him by Nikki. Then one day, he meets someone almost as disturbed as him: the recently widowed Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who copes with her loss by becoming the village bicycle.
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Hollywood portrayals of mental illness often seem to fall into the ‘I’m mad, mad, mad I tell you, mad’ category. And while this film has its fair share of histrionics, it remains, thankfully, restrained on the whole. The unstable Pat is hysterically awkward,  making inappropriate comments, jogging with a trash bag draped over him, sent into meltdown by a Stevie Wonder song, and most of all, raging about Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell To Arms in his parents’ room at 4am: “Stupid f***ing book!” But where director David O. Russell gets it right is in showing the strain on the mental patient’s caregivers, and the ripple effects of the illness on the people around him.
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Silver Linings Playbook

©The Weinstein Company

Based on the debut novel of the same name by Matthew Quick, the movie movingly explores human relationships with depth and sensitivity. But if there was only one reason to watch Silver Linings Playbook, it would be the gorgeous and precocious Jennifer Lawrence (or JLaw, as I like to call her. Cos we’re, you know, BFFs). The first time we see Tiffany, she is all grunge and goth, adorned in the colours of mourning. But it’s the eyes that sell it, radiating pain and weariness, as Lawrence puts on a performance of equal parts verve, fury and vulnerability. As she demands of Pat: “There’s always going to be a part of me that’s sloppy and dirty, but I like that. With all the other parts of myself. Can you say the same about yourself, f***er? Can you forgive? Are you any good at that?”
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Lawrence’s versatility is remarkable for a 21 year old, as she moves from the teenage angst of blockbusters The Hunger Games (2012) and X-Men: First Class (2011) to portraying the pain of a grown up. And she and Cooper share an excellent chemistry, utterly convincing as two damaged people drawn to each other.  The scene of the duo bonding over their meds will have you in stitches, though the progression of the love story doesn’t quite convince. It all culminates in the most nerve wracking of finales: a dance off. The duo make a more than decent stab at it, though Lawrence is clearly the superior dancer. It is played more for laughs than anything else, with loads of close-ups to mask their not-so-great dancing. But it is to the pair’s credit that their good looks do not distract from the narrative.
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©The Weinstein Company

“So who’s the better looking one, eh?” ©The Weinstein Company

De Niro, working with Cooper for the second time after Limitless (2011), seems to have mellowed in his dotage, but is no less excellent.  His famed intensity now plays out in different, quieter ways, and he has a nice trade in one-liners in this film. But it is still a pleasure to see him threatening a pesky neighborhood teenager  a la Travis Bickle/Jimmy Conway/Al Capone. Nevertheless, he is at heart a father quietly, desperately concerned for his son.
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He couldn't believe the constant cracks about getting out his shinebox ©The Weinstein Company

He hated the constant cracks about getting out his shinebox ©The Weinstein Company

If there are any complaints, it is that Silver Linings Playbook goes for the conventional Hollywood ending, glossing over the fact that mental illness is often a lifelong condition that needs to be managed with care and medication. But you will laugh – many times – and in all likelihood shed a tear or two for this wonderful and moving film.
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Silver Linings Playbook is playing in Singapore now. What did you think of the Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence pairing?
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