Silver Linings Playbook (2012), directed by David O. Russell

This is the feel-good movie of the fall for slightly screwed up people.

And I mean that in a good way.

Silver Linings Playbook is a romance, it’s a happy-ending type, make your heart flutter film, but it’s also realistic, as in its characters have flaws (large ones), it doesn’t shy away from the struggle of life and it doesn’t sugarcoat anything. It feels “real” in a way the best romantic movies manage.

The film is really about mental illness. Bradley Cooper, in the first role I really respected him in, plays a man with serious issues that have lost him everything (marriage, job, freedom, trust). Jennifer Lawrence, in her first really mature role, plays a woman with just as many problems on her plate, also struggling to hold her sanity together.

The portrayal of mental illness in movies can be a hard line to walk, but, without being any sort of expert, I feel like Russell’s film does a good job of tackling it. Pat and Tiffany have diagnosable mental illnesses that could easily define their characters, but ultimately they are portrayed as people, not as illnesses.

The stereotypical association of violence and mental illness may not exactly be a step forward, but I believe showing these characters overcome their illnesses and go on to achieve success is. The film recognizes the importance of medication, it shows characters wanting to be healthy and working to get better, it aptly demonstrates the complexities of mental illness and all the ups and downs those with problems, and those that love them, go through.

Bradley Cooper turns in a what hopefully turns out to be a defining role for him. I’ve never really been a fan, but he is excellent in this one. He moves past his usual douchey frat boy persona and comes out with a performance that is mature, dynamic and compelling. He’s far from just a pretty face. The role requires him to hit a wide array of tones and he pulls it off with noticeable skill.

Also expanding her repertoire is Jennifer Lawrence. She first came to our attention in Winter’s Bone, an excellent film with her excellent performance. But she was playing a teenager, and has done so in pretty much every film since, despite being 22 now. This is her first role where she is decidedly an adult, and she is excellent in it.

It’s hard to say whether Lawrence will go on to become a well-respected actor (her upcoming films suggest she’s sticking with the Hollywood fluff for the time being) but Silver Linings Playbook gives a glimpse that it’s certainly possible. Cooper is the focus, but Lawrence brings a well-rounded, powerful performance that lets us see her fun, Hollywood star side, as well as that gritty, down-to-earth edge that first made us pay attention.

She’s also insanely beautiful in this movie, if you will allow me to indulge my crush for just a moment.

Okay, back to professionalism.

It should be mentioned too that Robert De Niro gives an impressive, interesting performance, the first for him in quite a long time. He gives a glimpse of what once made him the most talented film actor in America.

Russell’s film isn’t some gritty, anti-Hollywood marvel. Like most of his films, it has some edge but is still ultimately mainstream in tone, form and content. But it’s an excellent mainstream film, a real tear-in-your-eye inspirational type fare. And while films like that are usually eye-rollers, Silver Linings Playbook has enough talent, content and maturity to pull it off without it ever becoming insultingly simplistic or phony.

There’s some Oscar buzz around this one, and I think it’s deserved for the performances. The film is nothing revolutionary, however, and I think would be a weak choice, but for an enjoyable night out at the movies it’s hard to beat right now. And I mean that in a very complimentary way.

Silver Linings Playbook is in cinemas now.