By Kayley Erlandson
Bipolar Pat (Bradley Cooper) emerges from an eight-month stint in a mental institution, eager to live out his new philosophy of looking for the silver lining in every situation. Sure, his wife got a restraining order on him after he caught her having an affair and beat her lover to a pulp. But even though Pat is forbidden from going within a 500 foot radius of his wife, he plans to get his life back in order and rekindle their love. Enter Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a fiery, young widow recovering from depression, who convinces Pat to enter an upscale dance competition with her as a way to impress his wife.
The two bond over tea and Raisin Bran, exchange pointed verbal jabs, and wallow in each other’s quirkiness. Through the ups and downs of their friendship, the two train for the dance competition and learn to coexist with each other’s flaws. Of course, this being the obligatory rom-com in the Oscar lineup, the audience figures it out before Pat does: even though falling in love with Tiffany isn’t part of his plan, she is the silver lining of his soul.
The first 2/3 of the movie sparkles with wit and fleshed-out characters. Lawrence’s Tiffany is a particular joy to watch, with her sharp tongue and subtly damaged nature. A far cry from her role as Katniss, the “girl on fire”, from the Hunger Games series, Lawrence still shines brightly as a refreshingly unconventional female lead in a romantic comedy. Cooper’s Pat complements Tiffany’s character and all the interactions between the two overflow with authenticity and occasionally heartbreak.
I laughed and empathized with the characters through the first two acts of the movie, but found only disappointment in the conclusion. At the beginning of the movie, I had wondered why it was labeled as a romantic comedy when it spat in the face of so many conventional stereotypes, but the ending alone pegs it as such.
My major qualm with tacking on a stereotypical happy ending in this movie’s case is that it sugarcoats and oversimplifies the reality of mental illness when the movie’s premise provides room for something with more depth. Pat’s bipolar disorder receives ample screen time in the opening, but this major definition of his character falls by the wayside somewhere along the line. By film’s end, there is nary a mention of it and the movie becomes nearly indecipherable from any other rom-com. If the ending was any more cliché, it would have ended on a shot of the two lead characters running through a crowded airport into each other’s arms.
It’s not hard to find a silver lining in this particular cloud: Playbook is funny, thoughtful, wonderfully different, and the chemistry between the actors is pitch perfect. The only disappointing part in this otherwise sunny day is the grey, drab overcast of a clichéd ending right before the credits roll.