Anyone seeking proof that a movie can transcend its subject should look to Silver Linings Playbook. On paper, David O. Russell’s comedy sounds like the apotheosis of a noxious indie quirkfest. Bipolar Pat (Bradley Cooper), having snapped after catching his wife cheating on him, returns home from a Baltimore mental institution to live with his parents in Philadelphia. Mom (Jacki Weaver) watches anxiously; Dad (Robert De Niro), who has serious OCD, seems perennially occupied with Sunday football. Neighbors nervously look out their windows whenever Pat approaches, expecting his violent outbursts. Naturally, friends introduce him to the only person in town as damaged as he is: a recently widowed Depressive Pixie Dream Girl named Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). She’s eager to help him…if only he’ll join her in a dance contest.
From this seeming onslaught of preciousness, Russell (adapting from Matthew Quick’s novel) mines one of the crowd-pleasers of the year: a genuinely funny film that seems to celebrate imperfection, with a raffish energy, down-home dinginess and cacophony of sarcastic asides that might have pleased Billy Wilder. When it comes to orchestrating comic chaos, few filmmakers have sharper timing than Russell. The Fighter uneasily melded his scrappy stylings to a dull, formulaic boxing story, but Playbook is more clearly the work of the maestro behind Flirting with Disaster and I Heart Huckabees. Much of the flavor comes from Philadelphia detail, as when Pat runs into his psychiatrist at an Eagles tailgate. And providing the film’s romantic core, Lawrence and Cooper stand out amid a sharp ensemble. Pat may or may not reach an epiphany, but the actor has the kind of breakthrough that has critics asking, Who knew? Ben Kenigsberg