Like any great movie, Silver Linings Playbook opens in a mental institution. Pat Solitano's (Bradley Cooper, who doesn't quite fit the typecast of an Italian) final day at a Baltimore psychiatric hospital begins with him talking into a recorder to his estranged wife, Nikki (Brea Bee), promising her that he's a changed man and that things will be different. Ordinarily, a promise like this will obviously be broken, but there is something so sincere--so insistent--in Pat's voice that you can't help but believe it. When his mother, Dolores (Jacki Weaver), picks him up from the facility, Pat already gets off to a roaring start by talking her into giving his friend and fellow patient, Danny (Chris Tucker, who always makes me think of Aaliyah's "Are You That Somebody?") a ride on their way to Philadelphia. Miles from the hospital, Dolores gets a call from one of the nurses saying that Daniel is not permitted to leave yet. And so begins Pat's endless string of disappointments with regard to getting his life back on track.
David O. Russell, who adapted the screenplay from Matthew Quick's novel of the same name, showcases his ability to toe a delicate line between maudlin and macabre better than in any of the past seven films he has written (I Heart Huckabees being his undeniable masterpiece). This much is evident in the rapport that Pat has with his father, Pat Sr. (Robert DeNiro), who, from the second Pat arrives, insists on spending "family time" together--which equates to watching Philadelphia Eagles games (Pat Sr. is convinced that Pat is his good luck charm). Pat, on the other hand, has other ideas about what he could be doing with his free time. Because he taught with Nikki at the local high school, Pat makes it a priority to start reading every book that she put on her class syllabus, starting with Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms. As more about the nature of Pat's illness is revealed, we learn that, because of his previously undiagnosed bipolar disorder, he went ballistic (like anyone would) upon finding Nikki in the shower with another teacher from the school (a much grosser, much older teacher, I might add).
This violent outburst leads Nikki to get a restraining order against Pat, the ultimate obstacle to his quest to win her back. A glimmer of hope appears, however, when Pat meets Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence, who has quickly risen to the ranks of A-list actors in the wake of The Hunger Games) at a dinner his friend, Ronnie (John Ortiz), invites him to after learning that he's home again. Ronnie's wife, Veronica (the always judgmental-looking Julia Stiles)--Ronnie and Veronica, yes--also invites her sister, Tiffany, who has a slew of baggage after her husband, Tommy, died. Upon meeting one another, the connection between Pat and Tiffany is instant as both of them seem to have a deep understanding of pain and what it means for people to look at you like you're crazy. Tiffany ends the dinner abruptly and asks Pat to walk her home (this is, of course, after they bond over discussing which meds they've taken--ranging from lithium to Abilify to Klonopin).
Upon walking her home, Tiffany bluntly offers herself by saying, "You can fuck me if you want." This takes Pat completely by surprise and somewhat offputs him, though, underneath it all, it's because he's so titillated by the prospect. Rejecting her advances, Pat leaves her high and dry (but probably wet), reminding her--and probably himself--that he's married. When he tells his therapist, Dr. Patel (Anupam Kher, who you may recognize from Bend It Like Beckham) about the incident, he encourages Pat to forge a friendship with Tiffany as it might show Nikki that he's become a more sensitive and caring person. Trying to heed his advice, including the counsel to find a way to get past the agony that envelops him every time his wedding song, "My Cherie Amour" by Stevie Wonder, plays (it was also playing when he caught his wife cheating on him), Pat makes an effort to befriend Tiffany. Deliberately running by her house so she'll see him, Pat asks Tiffany to go to a diner later that night.
It is at the diner that Tiffany lets down her walls long enough to confess the reason why she got fired from her job: Sleeping with everyone in the office (women included). Stunned by the admission, Pat attempts calmly eating his Raisin Bran without letting judgement creep across his face--especially since Tiffany has offered to deliver a letter from him to Nikki so he can explain that he's sought the help he needed and is a much more well-adjusted person now. Unfortunately, Pat can't hide what he truly thinks about Tiffany's coping antics, causing her to sweep the table of all of its dishes and run out of the dinner screaming "Fuck you!" When he chases her outside, Tiffany calls him out on how hypocritical it is for him to think that he's somehow "less crazy" than her, asserting, "I opened up to you, and you judged me." When you're actually interested in someone, this is, obviously, the worst thing they can do to you.
Pat makes amends with Tiffany by promising to enter a dance competition with her (it always comes down to a dance competition, doesn't it?) and, in turn, she will give the letter to Nikki. Their agreement ends up coalescing with a bet that Pat Sr. makes with his friend, Randy (Paul Herman), that the Eagles will win against the Dallas Cowboys. Part of the conditions of winning back the money Pat Sr. had previously lost to Randy involves Pat and Tiffany getting at least a 5 out of 10 dance score (don't ask, it involves one of Pat Sr.'s superstitions). As they rehearse more and more together (including a move that's very reminiscent of Dirty Dancing), it becomes a matter of forgetting what your objective was in the first place because you get so wrapped up in enjoying the actual process.
As Pat tries harder to fight his feelings for Tiffany, Jennifer Lawrence's performance becomes even more electrifying--her genuine woundedness and simultaneous strength being what comes across most. Like so many women, she's been burned too many times to not be skeptical of the possibility of love, and, for a split second, you start to believe that Pat might prove her skepticism right. But then, that would go against Pat's belief that, "The world's hard enough as it is, guys. Can't someone say, 'Hey, let's be positive? Let's have a good ending to the story?'" The answer, thanks to David O. Russell (who is a commendable figure for surviving a cameo on post-season 2 Gossip Girl), is yes.