In most other cities in America, the symbolic choice of locale in Silver Linings Playbook will probably be an easy detail to overlook. More likely, it will be hailed as an above average romantic comedy featuring broken people portrayed with very good performances by highly recognizable lead actors. But those who know our beloved city the most will find its mindset clearly and endearingly represented on screen by the unlikeliest of heroes.
Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) has recently been discharged from his court-ordered stint in a mental institution, after his undiagnosed bipolar disorder caused a rather unfortunate “episode.” In a moment of rage, he loses his wife, his job, and his home. Now he is trying to rebuild his life while living with his mother (Jacki Weaver) and his Eagles’ obsessed father (Robert De Niro). While reconnecting with old friends, he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a similarly damaged person, who has been marked as something of a loose cannon. Their friendship, born from similar feelings of isolation, sparks an interesting partnership that culminates in an unexpected place.
Philadelphia is a city of underdogs, and this film embraces that wholeheartedly. Whether in sports or culture, we have always viewed ourselves as second best, especially to our northern nemesis, New York. This movie captures the ups and downs of being the underdog, whether it be external or internal. Just like no one expects our town to win a World Series, or will laugh at our near-miss attempts at Super Bowl glory, so do they discount the value of people like Pat and Tiffany.
Mental health is still a near-taboo subject in our society, and these invisible afflictions are often overlooked. Friends, neighbors, and ex-coworkers all treat Pat differently after his return from the mental hospital, judging him, fearing him, valuing him as little more than a curiosity. Tiffany, for her part, becomes a “crazy girl” pariah and victim of general slut shaming after the death of her husband. The only people who look out for them are their parents, though that comes with its own problems. This is definitely a movie about family, and when we need to leave that comfort behind to grow as people.
I never anticipated a pairing like Cooper and Lawrence, and was pleasantly surprised with their effortless chemistry on screen. Their performances capture the essence of what it’s like to come up from behind and exceed all expectations while knowing all along you had it in the bag. I was also taken aback by De Niro, an actor I so closely associate with New York that I had a small existential crisis watching him zealously cheer on the Eagles. It speaks to the talent of director David O. Russell, who takes a small cast of dynamic actors and allows them to mix it up a little.
While some may be eager to dismiss this as a simple “feel good” movie, it starts from a much darker place, and ends on firmer footing than what we come to see from Hollywood rom-coms. The characters never become exaggerated representations of mental illness purely for the sake of audience education and pity. Instead, Silver Linings Playbook follows its characters and their disorders outside the confines of a doctors office, recognizing that learning to live with a disorder means demanding acceptance from yourself as well as others. A Philadelphia tale if ever I’ve heard one.
Silver Linings Playbook is now playing in Philly-area theaters.