There are movies that make us happy, movies that make us sad, and then there are those that do both, that do it all, and do it with balloons and confetti.
Prepare to meet the Solitanos of Philadelphia. The Solitanos live on a street where it’s safe for kids on Halloween, and Christmas tops off the electric bill, and they are the craziest family on that street. If no one is sleeping on the block, it’s because of the Solitanos. They live in Philadelphia Eagles sportswear, love, hate, vote, eat with their mouths full of food and hearts full of love. It’s David O. Russell country, only a state and a couple of blocks from where he brought us the “The Fighter.” Russell has done it again.
To say the Solitanos are a dysfunctional family is like saying the Manson family were troublemakers.
Let’s start with Pat Solitano Jr. (Bradley Cooper) who is emerging on early release from a Baltimore mental hospital, where he was undergoing treatment for severe bipolar disorder. He’s not really ready to leave, but his mother, (Jacki Weaver) a poor, big-hearted woman worn down from dealing with a family of misfits, missed him. She takes a chance on springing him early, like a pie from the oven that is still uncooked in the center.
From the moment young Pat opens his mouth, we can see he is clearly not ready to be unleashed back in the old neighborhood, where he once taught school.
Pat broke apart when he found his wife in the shower with a substitute teacher he proceeded to take apart.
After doing eight months, losing his house and wife, Pat is coming home. This is like bringing Katrina back to New Orleans.
Movie hunk, all-around handsome Harry — light comic Cooper — as a misfit teacher and bipolar patient? Fuggidaboudit. This is Cooper’s breakout moment, the ball comes directly at him, and he smashes it over the Green Monster. He is now cleared to sit on the bench with the first line up.
If it’s true that home is where the heart is, then the Solitano house needs a transplant. It is simply a tree-lined extension of the mental ward, as though it were a room down the hall. The great Robert De Niro, still doing the great Robert De Niro better than anyone, is Pat senior, a walking cutout from an OCD magazine. Poppa Pat keeps his collection of remotes neatly stacked in his lap, and only stops talking to keep the set tuned to ESPN. Papa is also raising money to buy a restaurant, by running a start-up illegal book-making business with his buddy, a fast-talking bookie played by Paul Herman (Beansie, on the “Sopranos.”)
While in the hospital, Pat Jr. learned to live his life by following the prescribed “Silver Lining Playbook,” which of course he simply cannot do. He cannot even stay on mild meds. He runs each day wearing his jersey and a black garbage bag.
He has another book, a clip book full of six or seven restraining orders.
There are women in Pat’s life who genuinely care for him. Niki, the wife (Brea Bee) who had enough, sold his house and hid behind one of those restraining orders.
There is the wife of friend Ronnie, (an amazing John Ortiz) Veronica, (a bigger, hotter, Julia Stiles.) And then there is Tiffany. Tiff is a slim, hot, dark whip of wind with small, dark fiery eyes and a razor tongue. Wait for it and prepare yourself, Tiffany is Jennifer Lawrence of “Winter Bone,” and “The Hunger Games.” This is a Lawrence you’ve not seen before. She is slimmed down, afire and unleashed like a panther. She is breathtaking and steals the movie like a cat burglar. I had not seen her since she set off alarms in “Winter Bone.” In this, she had me at “Hi, I’m Tiffany.”
Lawrence’s Tiffany is a widow, having lost her cop husband to an auto accident. She was “once a slut but doesn’t do that anymore.” Tiffany lives in a garage apartment behind her parents’ house, redone to a dance studio. Tiff has plans to light up her life by competing in a big dance contest, but she has no partner. Yes, you’re right.
There are others here that delight: Aupam Kher as Pat’s shrink, Dr. Patel, who is not above painting his face team green and getting in a fist fight.
There is comic Chris Tucker as a fellow mental patient, who brings important moves to a dance number to “Black it up.” He’s electric.
“Silver Lining Playbook” is one of those movies, that like a surprise horse in a year full of champions, pulls up slowly along the fence and keeps coming, until it shocks all the bettors and breaks out at the end and takes the cup. It has one of those “Rocky” moments when you’ll leave your seat and levitate, and listen carefully to the scene in the diner. A lot of people are betting on this dark horse. I’m one of them.
J.P Devine is a former stage and screen actor.