Silver Linings Playbook seems to exist as two separate entities- as a film and as an idea.
As a film, it seems a little structurally unsound. We follow Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper), who’s just been released from eight months in a mental institution after suffering a violent episode. On the slow and bumpy road to recovery, he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) a woman with her own host of troubles and the two of them begin an odd friendship. The bulk of Silver Linings Playbook places a focus on dialogue above all else. Characters talk at unreal speeds and often shout above each other’s lines, creating a hyper-kinetic sense where it’s often difficult to make out what a single character is really saying. The camera is just as jittery, and the combination of the two creates a powerful sense of unease, as though the film itself is unable to control its own thoughts. This perfectly syncs up with Pat’s condition, especially so when he is almost always present onscreen- there’s only between a minute to a minute and a half of scenes his character isn’t involved in.
So as Pat and Tiffany’s relationship develops, it does so in the context of a dialogue-driven character piece. Yet as the film nears its end, a dance contest introduced previously quickly becomes the focal point of the film- the stakes are elevated dramatically and whole lives soon become embroiled in the contest. To take a film that purposefully has little direction and give it a clear, concise road to an ending is jarring at first, and takes a few minutes to adjust to. Eventually, the ending becomes enjoyable in its own right (if somewhat saccharine) but it’s at odds with the majority of the film. There seems to be some great stylistic clash between Silver Linings Playbook and its ending, and while both are satisfying on their own, they never connect in the way they should.
However, were you to view the film as one big metaphor for Pat’s mental illness, everything suddenly clicks into place. The early portions are directionless because Pat’s life lacks direction, and when Tiffany introduces a clear and well-defined goal into his life, it gives him purpose and drives him towards a place where he can really be happy. The abrupt change in film style reflects the change in Pat’s life, and because nearly every moment of the film is shown from his perspective, it’s only natural that his perspective (and thus, the film) would change dramatically.
In judging whether or not Silver Linings Playbook‘s grand metaphor can overcome such an abrupt shift in tone and narrative, it’s hard not to compare it unfavorably to Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love. Anderson’s film features a similar mental illness love story but does so without resorting to an ideal Hollywood ending. One could even describe Silver Linings (with a surprising degree of accuracy) as three quarters Punch Drunk Love and one quarter Little Miss Sunshine. However, the caliber of the performances and the consistent vein of humor running through the film helps keep the final act of the film from feeling like an entirely separate entity, and ultimately the power of Silver Linings Playbook as an idea helps to fill in the cracks left by Silver Linings Playbook as a film.