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On Movies: 'Silver Linings Playbook' shines; 'Brooklyn Castle' inspires

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 20, 2012 - "Silver Linings Playbook" is two movies. Fortunately, each of them is very good. Together, they are terrific.

The first movie features a riveting performance by Bradley Cooper as a man possessed by the grandiose paranoia and fuel-injected speechifying of the manic stage of bi-polar disorder. The second movie, which does not follow so much as blend into the first, gradually lightening its tone, is an alternately tough and tender romance in which two badly damaged human beings help one another heal.

Toward the end, "Silver Linings Playbook," based on the bestselling novel by Matthew Quick, becomes a tad formulaic, borrowing some of its narrative moves from countless other successful romantic comedies. But the familiar moments are welcome after some of the harrowingly unpredictable scenes earlier in the story. It's as if screenwriter-director David O. Russell ("The Fighter," "Three Kings") understood that he had to restore order and familiarity after the disorienting chaos he -- and Bradley Cooper -- had created.

Cooper plays, with intensity and conviction, Pat Solatano, a former history teacher who just spent eight months in a state mental institution. Pat had succumbed to manic rage when he discovered his wife was having an affair. He beat her lover so badly the man ended up in the hospital with tubes in him.

Pat is helpless before his psychological demons and balks at the advice of his shrink. He has lost his job and his house, but he refuses to believe he has also lost his wife, despite, among other pieces of solid evidence, the restraining order she has taken out to keep him from approaching her. Meanwhile, he is forced to move back into his parents' house, although he and his father (Robert De Niro) cannot help but strike sparks every time they rub together.

Pat's father is crazy in his own way. He is an obsessive-compulsive Philadelphia Eagles fanatic who also is a bookmaker -- being both a fan who bets on the home team and a bookie is a formula for financial disaster. But the father perseveres in his costly fandom, and cannot believe that his son does not share his passion for "The Birds." De Niro is wonderful in the role, making up at least in part for the raging paternal cliché he plays in the "Focker" movies.

Through mutual friends, Pat is introduced to Tiffany, who is played marvelously by Jennifer Lawrence ("Winter's Bone," "The Hunger Games"). Tiffany pushes her way into Pat's life, in part by promising to help him get back together with his wife. In return, she demands that he help her in a dance routine she plans to perform in a ballroom contest. We gather that the dancing is a form of therapy for her. Pat resists. Tiffany persists. Despite himself, Pat starts to come out of his shell. Importantly, he begins taking his meds.

Even when he is moderately under control, Pat is usually on the run, twisting and turning his way through life as if it were strewn with landmines only he can see. Tiffany is herself crazy enough to get it, to understand Pat and to love him enough to try and force her way into his life. She wins a series of victories over his resistance, and in that regard one scene is priceless: she stuns Pat and wins over his father by demonstrating that she, too, knows a lot about the Philadelphia Eagles.

I suspect a clip of this triumphant scene -- which is reminiscent of a somewhat similar set-up involving the Baltimore Colts in the classic buddy film "Diner" -- will become increasingly familiar as the awards season comes upon us and Lawrence is discussed as one of the best actress nominees. Indeed, I suspect "Silver Linings Playbook" will be at least a contender in several major categories, including best picture.

Opens Wednesday Nov. 21

'Brooklyn Castle'

"Brooklyn Castle," which recently played at the Whitaker St. Louis International Film Festival, is an inspiring documentary about a junior high school in a rough neighborhood in Brooklyn that boasts of a national championship chess team.

Opens Wednesday Nov. 21

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