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Silver Linings Playbook is feel-good done right
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Jacki Weaver, left, and Robert De Niro star in "Silver Linings Playbook." - photo by JoJo Whilden

‘Silver Linings Playbook’

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Julia Stiles, Chris Tucker

Rated: R, for language and some sexual content/nudity

Runtime: 2 hours

Bottom line: One of the best of the holiday season

I’m the kind of person for whom the phrase “feel-good movie” is a negative term. I like to feel good, and I especially like to feel good by the time a movie’s end credits roll.

But “feel-good movies” are without doubt the most predictable of all film categories. The nature of the ending, after all, is given away right there in the term.

These movies strive to inspire us. They feature characters who endure trials and traumas with which we can relate, then they show those characters overcoming their emotional turmoil in ways that encourage us to do likewise in our real lives.

However, “feel-good movies” are usually self-defeating.

They undercut their primary goal by reassuring us at the outset that the characters’ emotional foes will, inevitably, be conquered. They also tend to feature some of the most painfully on-the-nose, dumbed-down dialogue one will ever hear.

I can’t say that “Silver Linings Playbook” avoids all of the inherent negatives of the “feel-good movie,” but it transcends our expectations for this kind of film to become something rare: a movie worthy of awards which also satisfies a wide audience.

Based on Matthew Quick’s debut novel, “Silver Linings Playbook” tells the story of former teacher Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) trying to put his life back together. Years earlier, he caught his wife cheating on him and experienced a psychological breakdown.

The movie opens with Pat leaving a mental institution and moving back in with his parents. Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) is an obsessive bookmaker who places crippling pressure on Pat Jr., and Dolores (Jacki Weaver) is constantly caught in the crossfire of the two tightly wound men of the house.

As we spend more time with his family, it becomes abundantly clear why Pat has issues.

Raised on Philadelphia Eagles football, Pat approaches his mental recuperation like a linebacker psyching himself up for a game. His attitude is positive yet forced and frenzied, to the point where it’s borderline manic. Even his good days are worrisome.

Diagnosing Pat’s mental health becomes even more difficult once he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who also has a history of mental illness caused by devastating trauma.

Pat and Tiffany bond over how strong their antipsychotic drugs are. Is this healthy? Pat and Tiffany might be helping each other heal their wounds, or they might be driving each other back into the abyss.

“Silver Linings Playbook” is a moving love story, an unflinching examination of mental illness and a dysfunctional family comedy. It’s almost incidental, rather than inevitable, that it’s also a “feel-good movie.”

It shouldn’t be terribly surprising that “Silver Linings Playbook” is an exceptional genre movie when we look at the cast and crew. Everybody is slightly out of their comfort zone.

This romantic movie at first seems like a stretch for writer-director David O. Russell, who is better known for cerebral comedies (“I Heart Huckabees” and “Flirting with Disaster”), the highly underrated war film “Three Kings” and the comeback movie “The Fighter.”

But to “Silver Linings Playbook” Russell brings the same distinctive wit, dramatic intensity and impeccable craft that has marked his entire career.

Cooper excels in his most demanding dramatic role yet. Lawrence gets to play someone more mature than herself in what must have been a welcome break from playing Katniss Everdeen in the “Hunger Games” movies.

De Niro and Weaver have covered this type of ground before, but it has been too long since we’ve seen them do it.

Chris Tucker breaks away from his usual motor-mouthed, wise-cracking type to provide a genuinely dramatic, yet quietly funny supporting role.

The movie’s sports theme grows a bit tiresome and stretches beyond believability, and to a degree, the ending is telegraphed worse than a Philip Rivers pass.

In the end, I didn’t care that “Silver Linings” sticks to the playbook. As Pat learns, the destination isn’t the point of life. It’s the journey that matters. Take this journey.

Jeff Marker teaches film and literature at Gainesville State College. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.

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