Starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence. Written by David O. Russell from the novel by Matthew Quick. Directed by David O. Russell. 14A. 120 min. Opens Nov. 21.
That Silver Linings Playbook beat out such fellow fest faves as Argo and Stories We Tell as TIFF’s latest People’s Choice Award winner proves at least one maxim about movies: If you’re looking to craft a crowdpleaser, be sure to close it with a dance competition. So what if it seems as gratuitous as the one that gets Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence out on the floor to shake it until you just can’t take it? Better to leave folks smiling—after all, those good vibes may distract them from noticing how scattered and erratic Silver Linings Playbook really is.
The films of David O. Russell have often benefitted from a certain degree of chaos. But compared with equally raucous predecessors like Flirting With Disaster and I (Heart) Huckabees, the director’s latest gets skittish whenever it strays into darker, rougher terrain, preferring to keep it cuddly despite the fact that its core subject is one man’s struggle with mental illness. Cooper gives a memorably manic performance as Pat, a high-strung teacher who has moved in with his parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver) after a breakdown and subsequent hospital stint. Pat’s road to recovery gets rockier after he connects with Tiffany (Lawrence), a similarly troubled young widow in his blue-collar corner of Philadelphia.
The actors’ enthusiasm for their tasks gives Russell’s movie an irrepressible energy, even if their tendency to launch into screaming matches at every opportunity is inevitably wearing. The broadness of much of the humour makes other scenes
feel like they belong in a family sitcom, albeit one directed by John Cassavetes. But to be fair, Silver Linings Playbook betrays its naturalistic trappings to become a feel-good fantasy long before the dance-off