Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

In a ho-hum year for American cinema, Silver Linings Playbook gleams out of the dull woodwork as a modest film about people with modest ambitions, told at such a painfully honest level that it rises above as the best film of 2012.

The straightforward narrative, of a middle-aged man living with his parents and dealing with bipolar disorder, is enhanced through superb performances and powerful imagery. Bradley Cooper (who I’m usually not a fan of) giving a daring and moving performance as the protagonist, Jennifer Lawrence as the heartbreaking but electrifying heroine, and Robert De Niro as the well-intentioned but pathetic father lead the extraordinary cast in this tragicomedy. All three start off the film recovering from bad places in their lives, and try to build them back up.

Reconstruction proves difficult, emphasized in moments like Cooper’s character moving home, seeing his brother’s picture hanging on the wall while his own has been taken down and is leaning on a table. Lawrence’s character (in one of several memorable monologues) tells of having to constantly give all of herself, only to receive nothing back. While the circumstances the characters face are more extreme than most of us will face in our lifetimes, they hint at positions we have all had to grapple with, in varying degrees of questioning one’s own self-worth.

This film all seems to take place within several square miles. The characters’ dreams are not impossible ones. The biggest ambition seems to be getting a 5 out of 10 at a dance competition, an underwhelming feat that provides one of the film’s biggest laughs. Yet despite the understated attributes in the content of the film, the final product and emotional impact are profound and powerful, giving audiences one of the most rewarding and moving comedies in recent years.

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