But when I say “crazy,” I don’t mean crazy-crazy, like real-life crazy, but rather that special we’re-in-a-crazy-movie kind of crazy that allows for ids to run rabid in the name of controlled comic chaos; not the sort of crazy that leads to tragedy, despair or, in the case of John Cassavetes’ movies, that most fragile, unnerving, eerily exhilarating sort of equilibrium. The characters in Silver Linings Playbook, based on Matthew Quick’s eponymous novel, are only as crazy as they need to be to keep the story’s central conceits afloat for the film’s duration; as we near resolution, the craziness is fully contained. Near the top of the film our protagonist chucks a copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls through a window—not out, but through it—from frenzied disgust for its scandalizing, downbeat finale. He demands happy endings from his stories, and we know that come hell or high water—or in this case, flagrant, flailing dance floor amateurism and football triumph—he’s going to get one. So yes, under its batshit guise of high neurosis, this is deceptively close to being a perfectly conventional rom-com.
And so what? The big picture feels a bit pedestrian, but scene-by-scene Silver Linings Playbook is giddily inspired. Cooper’s nothing if not committed, a little scary, a lot talky, running around his parents neighbourhood with a trash bag over his torso so he can sweat better. Lawrence brings nothing but wild conviction and drive to her secondary role. She’s got feral Medusa stares, is seductive in a way that makes you want to remove sharp objects from the house when she comes over for dinner. And the supporting cast populates Russell’s suburban Philadelphia milieu with memorable, distinctive neuroses of their own, most especially Robert De Niro, terrific as Cooper’s OCD bookie dad, who’s insanely superstitious about sports. Russell’s movies run on anxiety, urgency and carefully tuned babble, and everyone gets some great dialogue. The final scenes kind of blow it, the dance-off most of all, since it keeps cutting away to reaction shots to remind us how we’re supposed to feel. But whatever, if you don’t have a good time with Silver Linings Playbook, you’re nuts.