Cooper, Lawrence click in “Silver Linings Playbook”

For the screen version of Matthew Quick’s novel “Silver Linings Playbook” to work, it is imperative that the actors playing the lead characters, Pat and Tiffany, have some genuine chemistry. Fortunately in writer-director David O. Russell’s effort, Bradley Cooper as Pat and Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany prove to be the highlights in an uneven movie.

Pat has just been released after spending eight months in a mental institution in a plea bargain after beating up a man he discovers in the shower with his wife Nikki, a school teacher. But while inside the institution, Pat is diagnosed as bi-polar, which may or may not have had an impact on his marriage.

Pat moves back home with his parents, Pat Sr. (Robert DeNiro) and Delores (Jacki Weaver), and he has a plan, based on positive attitudes, to regain his life, including winning back Nikki. He even starts reading books Nikki assigns to her students, but signs indicating Pat might not be ready to move back into society are evident when, outraged by the tragic ending of Ernest Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms,” flings the book out of a closed window, shattering the glass.

Obsessively. he dons a plastic garbage bag to function as a sweater while jogging in his neighborhood, and struggles in fixing his estranged relationship with his father, a diehard Philadelphia Eagles fan who sees watching and rooting for the Eagles as a way for father and son to bond.

Pat runs into an old friend in the neighborhood, Ronnie (John Ortiz), who invites him over for dinner. This causes anxiety in Pat, as Ronnie’s wife, Veronica (Julia Stiles), is a friend of Nikki’s and obviously is not a fan of Pat’s. But the man feels that if he attends the dinner and shows he has recovered, Veronica might report this back to Nikki.

Instead, a complication pops up. Also invited to the dinner is Tiffany, Veronica’s sister, whose policeman husband recently died. Naturally, she has issues, including behavior that has earned her the reputation of being an easy woman.

Once Pat and Tiffany start spending time together, “Silver Linings” takes off. Tiffany is a volatile spirit, quick to explode emotionally but also quick to calm down. She is keenly observant regarding Pat’s problems to the point she mostly tolerates his self-absorbed behavior. She even agrees to help him communicate with Nikki — a restraining order prohibits him from getting near his wife, but Tiffany agrees to take a letter Pat has written to her. In exchange, Pat must be dance partner for Tiffany in an upcoming contest.

“Silver Linings,” like any other film about mental and emotional problems, has its share of introspective moments as Pat meets with a therapist, Dr. Patel (Anupam Kher), along with intense and explosive emotional scenes, and the lump-in-the-throat times, especially when the tough Pat Sr. has a vulnerable, confessional time with Pat.

Cooper is mostly exceptional as Pat, conveying an irrational obsession with regaining what assuredly is a life he will never enjoy again. If there is a weakness, it is when he becomes unhinged — it seems too forced. However, his encounters with Tiffany, that sometimes leave him befuddled, are treasures, and although the audience might know where Pat is headed, Cooper’s performance is crafted well enough that it is not telegraphed.

Lawrence, though only 22, has already put together an impressive list of performances in drama (“Winter’s Bone”) and action (“X-Men: First Class” and “The Hunger Games”). Her work as Tiffany puts her in contention for a second Academy Award nomination. Lawrence has a screen presence that draws the audience in, and with Tiffany, she keeps not only Pat, but the viewers off balance. She is wounded and sometimes fragile, but she bounces off the ropes with more energy and compassion than you would expect.

DeNiro, in one of his strongest performances in years, portrays Pat Sr. as a man who struggles to go beyond a tightly held notion of one-dimensional fatherhood, i.e. believing that a shared fanaticism for a football team can be a sufficient bond between a parent and child. Weaver also has some wonderful moments as the steadfast wife and mother, dealing with people who are constantly in danger of coming apart.

In a nice side story, Chris Tucker is Danny, a friend of Pat’s at the institution who manages to get released unofficially, only to be taken back. But he proves to be valuable in keeping Pat and Tiffany locked unto one another.

A weakness in “Silver Linings” is that Nikki is just a name and a face. Some flashback scenes showing pivotal moments in the marriage between Pat and Nikki would have provided some emotional punch and helped bring an understanding as to why Pat was so determined to mend his marriage that he risks losing a chance to recover and take a different path.

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