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When life gives you lemons, you are generally expected to make lemonade. That’s the proverb, right? It sounds easy and straightforward, and most people would love to go straight from bad situation to positive outcome, but there’s that little teeny tiny bit of process in the middle that no one seems to ever bother mentioning. How exactly does one make the proverbial lemonade? This question is at the center of the superb new film from director David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook.
The set-up is easy to comprehend, but it is also fairly complex: Pat (Bradley Cooper) has what he thinks is the perfect life . . . until he comes home one day and finds his wife/love-of-his-life/reason-for-his-existence in the shower with another man. He goes berserk, commits a horrendous assault, and is sent away to serve time until he’s released on parole eight months later. Upon his release, he has to move in with his parents (played by Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver) who want him to get back on his feet. Problem is, Pat has no idea how to because he’s kind of like a bull in a china shop: he isn’t naturally angry or prone to outburst, he just simply cannot accept the terms of his life as they have become through what he thinks is no fault of his own.
Enter Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a young widow with a dark edge who is trying to fix her grief at the loss of her husband by “getting around”. It isn’t going so well for her, especially since the only thing anyone seems to like about her is her body. She is brash and tough and unapologetic . . . kinda like Pat. It seems like everyone wants them to get together, but they can’t really stand each other, and besides, Pat just wants to get back with his cheating wife.
Tiffany, it turns out, does need Pat, though not for her own psychological repair: she needs a dancing partner to help her train and enter a small-time competition that she has been angling to participate in. She offers Pat a deal: she’ll help him win back his wife if he helps her train for the dance competition. He accepts, a friendship is born, and then . . . well, then.
The plots movie with such a natural fluidity that you never question the structure or the sometimes jarring twists that seem perfectly natural in this tale of tattered and torn hearts. The concept of two wounded beings finding healing in each other is not new, but what makes the movie so utterly spectacular are the performances. Make no mistake about it: this is the best Bradley Cooper has ever been in any movie. He plays the part with such complete self-aware gusto that you can’t help but wonder where this marvelous actor has been for the last decade as he’s slummed his way through big budget romantic comedies and road trip movies. Jennifer Lawrence continues her march as Hollywood’s Best Young Actress by turning in a performance that belies her age, proving that she can do much more than simply be fierce and aggressive in movies like Hunger Games. The supporting cast of Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker, and Anupam Kher also deserve special mention for playing their parts to the hilt. In fact, this is one of those rare movies where ever major players gets at least one chance to really deliver the acting goods – and then some.
The cast should clean up big time at next year’s awards ceremonies. Until then, do not miss this gem – it’s one of the year’s very best films.