Bradley Cooper burst on the scene in 2009’s The Hangover and has been pretty busy ever since. He went on to star alongside Robert De Niro in Limitless, which gave me the opportunity to witness him in a more dramatic role. He continued to expand his more serious repertoire with last summer’s The Words, giving an authentic performance wrought with emotion. I disagree with those I’ve heard question Cooper’s range and talents. His latest Oscar-nominated feature may convince some that he has what it takes to stick around for a while, as he teams with talented director David O. Russell (The Fighter) for Silver Linings Playbook.
Cooper stars as Pat, a man trying to rebuild his life after an emotional betrayal sends him into a psychological tailspin. His marriage is on the flimsiest ground, a fact that is apparent to everyone but Pat. We are introduced to him on the day of his release from a mental health facility in Baltimore, where he was sentenced to a brief stint after the aforementioned wifely betrayal left another man in intensive care. Cooper reunites with his Limitless co-star Robert De Niro in the movie, as the veteran actor stars alongside Jacki Weaver (The Five Year Engagement) as Pat’s parents Dolores and Pat Sr. They are loving towards Pat and his older brother Jake (Shea Whigham, Boardwalk Empire), though Pat’s recent troubles and attendant mental state have given them cause for concern. During his hospitalization Pat was diagnosed as bipolar, which clarifies some of the turmoil he’s experienced in his life up to that point. He learned some coping mechanisms while there, and he tries to apply his new positive philosophy to life by looking for the “silver lining” whenever possible.
Pat settles in back home in Philadelphia, reconnecting with friends. He has dinner with his old buddy Ronnie (John Ortiz, Pride and Glory) and his overbearing wife Veronica (Julia Stiles, The Bourne Ultimatum), where he is reintroduced to her sister Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence, X-Men: First Class). She is detached yet alluring, her grip on mental stability just as tenuous as Pat’s. As Pat lives in denial about the possibility of reconciliation with his estranged wife Nikki, Tiffany continues her recovery from sex addiction in the aftermath of her husband’s recent death. At Tiffany’s insistence, the pair form a friendship that initially begins as a quid pro quo where she will deliver a message to Nikki (who has a restraining order against Pat) if Pat will be her dance partner in a local ballroom competition.
Cooper’s performance was honest, and his chemistry with Jennifer Lawrence was effortless. They both gave unguarded, nuanced performances, as their characters struggled for acceptance and affirmation in one another. Lawrence shows incredible versatility, proving that she can shine in virtually any role: from popcorn fare like X-Men or The Hunger Games to grim material like Winter’s Bone. I can’t recall the last movie I’ve seen that had so many standout roles. The film has been nominated for eight Academy Awards, a whopping four of which are in acting categories. De Niro put on a brilliantly understated display that began with subtlety but ended with layered complexity, revealing where Cooper’s character may have inherited some of his idiosyncratic and manic behavior. Every performance was noteworthy, including Chris Tucker’s (Rush Hour) turn as Pat’s quirky pal Danny. I don’t usually get caught up in the Oscar buzz, but in this case the hype is justified. Grade: A