"Silver Linings Playbook" is David O. Russell's most biting look at pathological self-destruction and redemption since "I Heart Huckabees", albeit with a darker tone. Bradley Cooper goes Oscar-trolling as Pat Solitano, a former high school teacher sprung from a mental institution eight months after a violent breakdown. Living with his superstitious father (Robert De Niro finally back in form) and his doting mother (Jacki Weaver), Pat nurses delusions of repairing his relationship with his wife, who has filed a restraining order and all but divorced him. He does not find much solace until he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a fellow tortured soul soothing her grief--following the death of her husband--through unhealthy sexual encounters and ballroom dancing.
Cooper demonstrates a range never offered to him in the "Hangover" franchise or the sci-fi thriller "Limitless". From the outset, it is implausible that the actor who gave us the womanizing, alpha male Sack Lodge could inhabit a loser at rock-bottom trying to put his life back together, but Cooper pulls it off. Jennifer Lawrence also does great work, letting her freak flag fly while maintaining the undercurrent of strength laced with vulnerability that landed her the Oscar nod for "Winter's Bone". The great Mr. De Niro gives a heartfelt but appropriately restrained supporting performance as a father both exasperated by and concerned for his fragile son.
The story moves along at fairly brisk pace, with Pat and Tiffany feeling their way toward a real emotional connection the same way someone fumbles for a flashlight during a blackout. The focus remains on Pat, but presents Tiffany as closed off but desperate to feel something.
While it could be argued that the film squanders a lot of its dramatic weight with a slightly syrupy ending, the director offers a compelling portrait of two people doing their utmost to pick up the pieces of their broken existences and maybe find a little happiness.