With quirk and heart, David O. Russell's exceptional new film showcases the emerging talents of Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence.
There was a moment, as the 20th century prepared to give way to the 21st, when it appeared American film might be on the cusp of a breakthrough era, with a handful of young (or at least young-ish) directors coming into their own at once. Wes Anderson had just given us Rushmore; M. Night Shyamalan, The Sixth Sense; Paul Thomas Anderson, Magnolia; and David O. Russell, the eldest of the bunch at 41, Three Kings. All seemed to harbor the potential for greatness.
In the years since, each one has taken his detours, but with the exception of Shyamalan—whose steep and as yet unbroken descent has been more unnerving than any of his films—all look to be back on track. In the case of Russell, his post-2000 wanderings carried him from the overkill idiosyncrasy of "I [Heart] Huckabees" to the relatively conventional satisfactions of The Fighter. With his latest film, Silver Linings Playbook, he has again recalibrated, and achieved the quirky yet poignant balance of his best early work.
Thirtysomething Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) is returning home to live with his parents in Philadelphia following an eight-month stint in a mental institution for being "undiagnosed bipolar, with mood swings and weird thinking brought on by stress." This belated diagnosis was reached following his less-than-collegial response to finding his wife—like him, a school teacher—taking a shower with one of their colleagues.