With nominations for Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Editing and all four acting categories, Silver Linings Playbook has a shot to benefit from difference-splitting between the epic Lincoln and the controversial Zero Dark Thirty (which I haven't seen yet), but it would be a shame if it did because while the performances are solid and the script is mostly solid, it sells out everything that came before with a rushed and cliched finale.
Bradley Cooper is a bi-polar mess, getting out of a mental hospital after an 8 month stint for nearly beating to death the man whom he caught with his wife in their shower. He desperately believes that he can win his wife back, restraining orders and basic reality notwithstanding. When he encounters young widow Jennifer Lawrence, who has a connection to his wife by which he can slip her a note (under the restraining order's radar), he agrees to help her with a ballroom dance contest which ultimately has ramifications upon his father's (Robert De Niro) business plans to leverage his bookie business into a legit restaurant.
Silver Linings Playbook starts off-kilter as we're introduced to the characters and realize they're all messes - Cooper is bi-polar and delusional; De Niro has OCD and a hefty dose of sports superstition (which makes those Bud Light "It's only weird if it doesn't work" ads look like an endorsement of mental illness, in addition to alcoholism); Lawrence was extremely promiscuous after her husband's death. Since we know that lurking in the distance are the usual rom-com tropes of whether Cooper and J.Law are going to fall in love or not, it's interesting in the early going to see them tear into each other, though it's one-sided because Cooper is the one with problems.
Speaking of Cooper, he's excellent in the role. I've always thought he had the same problem as Mel Gibson and Tom Cruise in that no one wants to take him seriously as an actor because he's so preposterously handsome. (Not that he's had the off-screen meltdowns the others have had.) He manages to make what is a sick, mean, self-deluded guy appealing, but never by winking at us to let us know he's just funning. A bad haircut helps.
J.Law's only competition for Best Actress is likely to be Jessica Chastain because she is riveting playing a role that's somewhat older than the 21 she was when shooting this. Unlike most blank starlets, she is able to project her feelings through her eyes and more than holds her own against De Niro and others. (Along with Emma Stone, actresses like J.Law are why Lindsay Lohan's career is over.) De Niro is much less mannered and self-parodying here than he's been in ages, too.
It's hard to explain how Silver Linings Playbook blows it without spoiling the ending but to say that after nearly two hours of subverting the expectations of the rom-com formula, it succumbs to them in an unsatisfactory manner. Cooper's denouement with his estranged wife is done silently (a la Lost in Translation), coming off not as profound but as if David O'Russell couldn't think of what he should say, feeling rushed and tacked on.
I can't fault the temptation to deliver a happy ending to send audiences out of the theater with a smile on their faces, but after setting up a twitchy, itchy milieu and characters, it's too bad Silver Linings Playbook didn't have the guts to finish off as bravely as it seemed to want to when it started.
Score: 7/10. Catch it on cable.