Silver Linings Playbook is a remarkable movie. David O. Russell has created a fully-realized, wonderful world full of honest characters and real problems, yet at the same time it celebrates life in all its quirky ways while recognizing what makes movies special.

Rarely has a film been able to follow the basic structure of a romantic comedy-drama, while exceeding expectations at every turn; embracing the cliché yet staying true to the characters and story. While the story structure may be familiar, the execution is anything but. Powerful performances and keen direction aside, it’s the characters and their issues which shine, as the emotion of the characters is front and center in a film that’s equal parts hilarious and heart-wrenching.

Based on the novel of the same name by Matthew Quick, Silver Linings Playbook tells the story of Pat Solitano (Cooper) as he is let out of mental institution after an eight-month stay for a violent crime. We meet Pat as he’s trying to pick back up his life and marriage, living with his Philadelphia Eagles-loving father, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) and mother, Dolores (Jacki Weaver). Pat’s lost weight and has a new, positive mindset in life – seeking the silver lining in everything.

Determined to win back his wife, Nikki (Brea Bee), Pat dedicates his time to this sole purpose. Yet when he attends a dinner with his friends, Veronica (Julia Stiles) and Ronnie (John Ortiz), he unexpectedly meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), Veronica’s sister. Tiffany is just as damaged as Pat, and Jennifer Lawrence injects light, warmth and power into the film with her performance. Lawrence has had more than her fair share of success in the past few years, first with an Oscar-nomination for Winter’s Bone, and of course her more mainstream roles in films such as The Hunger Games and X-Men: First Class, but it’s here where she’s most mature, utterly in control of a character who is anything but.

Just as Tiffany is consistently teetering on the edge, so is the film. David O. Russell operates on the brink of chaos; a perfect blend of wit, heartbreak, joy, despair, and every emotion in between. As adept as Silver Linings Playbook is from a story standpoint, the film is also as visually groundbreaking as many of Russell’s past films. He never frames a shot quite right, consistently shifting the camera in new and exciting ways, getting to the emotional core of each scene in the process.

Despite a rather telegraphed final act, Silver Linings Playbook is continually authentic in its characters’ stories. While at times cliché, David O. Russell understands how to navigate around this as both a writer and a director. Russell is the maestro of each scene, perfectly blending the unexpected wit and emotion of its characters, while recognizing the appeal and comfort of telling a story that is ultimately uplifting.

As if two Oscar-worthy performances from Cooper and Lawrence wasn’t enough, De Niro gives his most powerful performance in some time, with one particularly emotional turn which gets right to the core of what makes Silver Linings Playbook so powerful: a balance of the uplifting and the emotional. Jacki Weaver holds her own opposite De Niro as she proves her Oscar-nominated turn in Animal Kingdom was no fluke. Even Chris Tucker gives a solid performance as Pat’s friend from the institution, Danny.

Fully embodying all the humor, sadness, anger, and love of its characters, Silver Linings Playbook is that rare breed of film that is laid out as a quintessential romantic comedy-drama, while subverting the rote expectations of a typical romantic comedy. With an absolutely stunning, hilarious, soul-wrenching cast, led wonderfully by Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, and the virtuosic direction of David O. Russell, you’ll be moved, entranced, and delighted throughout.

Grade: A+

Rated: R (for language and some sexual content/nudity)

Silver Linings Playbook opens in theaters on November 21, 2012.

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