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Silver Linings Playbook

It may be January, but this will have to be one of the films of the year.
By Rima Sabina Aouf
January 28, 2013
By Rima Sabina Aouf
January 28, 2013

The phrase 'sleeper hit' was coined for movies like Silver Linings Playbook. It looks like your run-of-the-mill wacky family holiday movie, but it's an important film and a great one that deserves to sweep the Academy, SAG and copious other awards it's nominated for.

Because while Silver Linings Playbook obeys the conventions of a crazy family comedy — hilarity, personalities clashing under one roof, people yelling over the top of each other, the gradual acceptance of family legacies — it really hones in on the 'crazy' part. In films, craziness usually peaks at extreme quirkiness. But in our real-life households we know the source of irrational behaviour often lies with mental illness, and that's much more complex.

Based on the novel by Matthew Quick, Silver Linings Playbook acknowledges and honours this common human experience with its story of Pat (Bradley Cooper), a bipolar former history teacher returning to the house of his mother (Australia's inimitable Jacki Weaver) and father (Robert De Niro) after a court-mandated nine months in a mental health facility. He remains fixated on his estranged wife, Nikki (Brea Bee), even though she has a restraining order against him, and he feels his new positive philosophy is the way to win her back. What he's not sure is help or hindrance, however, is the appearance in his life of recent widow Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), whose existing depression has been wildly exacerbated by her husband's death.

These are not characters we've seen on screen before, and they're extraordinarily well drawn. The film positions you in Pat's corner, to the point where you can fully understand his not-always-logical way of thinking and not only sympathise but make the leap with him. To outsiders, he's unreliable, tactless, and even violent, but to viewers, he's just Pat.

Silver Linings Playbook is technically excellent, with charming performances and firm plotting, but there are a lot of technically excellent movies. It's rare to see one that will mean so much to so many people. Director David O. Russell has spoken about how important making the film was to him as the parent of a child with mental illness. He didn't want his film to be all doom and gloom; he wanted it to be full of hope, humour, and compassion, as even burdened lives are.

His connection to the subject shines through to create a special and authentic-feeling film. Perhaps most vitally, Silver Linings Playbook isn't about sectioning off people's experiences via a medical label; it incorporates the full spectrum of what Pat calls the "craziness within myself and everybody else", and nearly everyone is likely to see something within it that resonates. It may be January, but this is certainly one of my films of the year.

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