Written before The Fighter, it follows Bradley Cooper’s Pat, a school teacher who moves back in with his parents after an eight-month stint in a mental institution, and his blossoming relationship with Jennifer Lawrence’s Tiffany, a family friend who empathises with his anxieties – she has plenty of her own.
Russell has become a chronicler of dysfunctional families, and in Playbook he creates a corker, with Pat’s gambler father (Robert De Niro) and his well-meaning but misguided mother (reliably superb Aussie Jacki Weaver). He finds humour in the everyday and relationships’ complexity, and expertly finds a tone that is observant and compassionate – he’s empathetic rather than just sympathetic. He again opts for an approach, both in performance and direction, that is both realistic and energetic, and keeps the focus on the story while maintaining a swift pace.
As much as it is a story about mental illness and families finding one another, it is also a warming love story, and features a raft of sterling performances. Cooper makes Pat engaging when he could come off as frustratingly neurotic, Lawrence shows why she is the hottest young star out there and De Niro gives his best performance in years. Even Chris Tucker, as Pat’s mate from the clinic, plays a comedic supporting role that is moving and really very funny. A stand-out.
Good for: A comedy-drama crowd pleaser with heart, humour and, above all, soul.