Silver strives for gold strikes bronze

Latest Oscar bait sees A-listers on autopilot

Despite its title Silver Linings Playbook is a film that’s more focused on gold — namely the kind that coats Oscar statuettes. With its “serious” subject matter and high-wattage cast it might well win some but viewers will have to dig considerably deeper to find the precious metal.

Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper) is newly out of the mental hospital and living with his parents Pat Sr. and Dolores (Jacki Weaver and Robert De Niro). A teacher with bipolar disorder Pat we later learn was committed for brutally beating a fellow teacher after catching him in the shower with his wife Nikki whom he’s now determined to win back.

Invited for dinner at a colleague’s he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) an attractive tart-tongued widow with mental health issues of her own. Despite some initial awkwardness the two form a bond in an improbable conversation over anti-anxiety medications. They later strike a deal: Tiffany will pass a letter to Nikki whom Pat can’t see because of a restraining order if he’ll dance with her in a ballroom competition.

As if this setup weren’t improbable enough the duo’s success at their routine becomes part of a bet between Pat Sr. and his friend Randy (Paul Herman) for the transparently obvious reason of adding drama where little would otherwise exist. But then realism clearly isn’t much of a priority for the film which scarcely has a single credible line of dialogue. Both Pat and Tiffany’s ostensibly tragic love stories moreover are absurd (he caught his wife in flagrante while she was playing their wedding song her husband was hit by a car while bringing home some lingerie for her).

None of this is necessarily any worse than the standard romantic comedy of course and wouldn’t matter much if the film weren’t equally superficial in its treatment of mental illness. Pat’s relentless optimism (the silver linings of the title) is meant to seem inspiring but has little impact when there’s no sense he’s really faced any obstacles on account of it and the self-help wisdom he spouts comes off as cloying instead.

Cloying is generally an apt description for much of the film’s supporting cast as well including Dolores with her Estelle Costanza-like quaver and Chris Tucker as Pat’s friend and fellow patient Danny who pops up periodically to spout gibberish about his legal battles against the hospital. And while Anupam Kher is generally competent as Pat’s psychiatrist an Indian doctor calling the opposing football team “cocksuckers” isn’t inherently funny. Many critics have hailed De Niro’s performance as a return to form but with his exasperated sighs and other familiar tics it really feels like it could have been lifted from a half-dozen of his recent performances with minor changes.

For some moviegoers the silver lining in Silver Linings Playbook will nonetheless be easy to find. Cooper and Lawrence are an attractive and likable couple and the film’s happy ending will warm many hearts. But it’s not a reflection of the film’s quality — even the darkest clouds after all have silver linings.