Jennifer Lawrence and Some Silver Linings Cheesesteak

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Jojo Whilden/Weinstein Co.
Gotta dance! Lawrence and Cooper.
The Dinner: Cheesesteak sandwich, at Buckley's on Queen Anne (232 First Ave. W.).

The Movie: Silver Linings Playbook, at Pacific Place (600 Pine St.).

The Screenplate: With a film set in Philadelphia, and its characters rooted in the humble cop/teacher/fireman middle class, the choice of cuisine ought to be obvious after seeing the wonderfully manic new Silver Linings Playbook: Philadelphia Cheesesteak. But when the two main characters, played by Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, go on a date at a neighborhood diner, he orders breakfast cereal. She demurely orders tea. No help there. When the football-obsessed Solatano clan gathers to watch the Eagles on TV, its matriarch (Jacki Weaver) cheerfully offers "crabby snacks and homemades," which also isn't much guidance for dinner. The psychiatrist tending to Pat (Cooper) is Indian, but no one actually eats Indian food in the movie. Nor any official Philadelphia cheesesteak, for that matter. So I went for the next best--or next closest--thing...

There are two Buckley's in Seattle, and the one in Belltown is actually closer to Pacific Place, where I saw the movie. But I wanted to eat closer to home. The Lower Queen Anne location is a welcoming family tavern/sports bar where Pat Solatano Sr. (Robert De Niro) would feel right at home. Team banners and pennants hang everywhere from the walls and ceiling. A game is playing on every TV screen, and there are over a dozen screens to choose among. If there is a game playing somewhere in the world, whatever the individual sport, it's playing at Buckley's. (Thankfully, the volume is kept fairly low.) But the place is also a solid, casual restaurant where parents bring their toddlers in tiny sports jerseys and where Pat (Cooper) could wear his sweats and trash bag--to sweat off extra pounds--after a run.

Fresh out the nuthouse after assaulting his wife's lover, Pat swears he's turned a new leaf. He's off his meds, and he's convinced his mother to check him out of the hospital. Back in his childhood home, he runs and reads obsessively (the latter from the syllabus of his wife's high school English class). He thinks he can win her back with self-improvement, a plan his worried parents try gently to discourage. How crazy, or dangerous, is Pat? Cooper was something of a journeyman handsome guy until the Hangover movies made him a star. It wasn't clear until now that he could create a fully flawed and interesting character, which Pat certainly is. Obsessively focused on the wrong woman, prone to sudden tantrums, resistant to all good advice, Pat's got a trace of Travis Bickle to him (as De Niro's presence reminds us). Directed by David O. Russell (from Matthew Quick's novel), Silver Linings Playbook is certainly a comedy, but one that keeps you constantly off-balance with its volatile tone. Punches, slaps, and harsh words are exchanged. The cops are called to the Solatano home, and you wonder if Pat is really fit for life outside the mental ward. And Russell keeps pushing his hero into extremis, and into the dark orbit of young widow Tiffany (Lawrence), who's got plenty of troubles of her own.

Before we go there, however, let's settle into the comfort meal of a Buckley's Cheesesteak ($12.95) with a pint of Alaskan Winter Ale ($4.50). Russell's screwball-infused movie is somewhat exhausting, what with all the running and dancing and arguing, so we need a break. Is there a difference between the Buckley's and Philadelphia variety sandwich? We're not sure. This one comes on a long, slightly damp hoagie (as if steamed rather than toasted), with chopped-up steak bits on a bed of onions and peppers. On top, true to the name, two squares of American cheddar. All that, with a side of fries. It's a substantial meal, and the sandwich is so laden that it can't be properly lifted up to one's face. I chewed close to the plate for a while, fearful of spilling, then finally resorted to knife and fork. The idea here is fine, but I'd rather see it packaged as a slider: half as big, served in three or four discreet units. The fries are good, and I was still picking at them with my tea later. (Total bill about $22.) Add a bowl of soup, and it'd be a satisfying meal for two.

Are Pat and Tiffany bound to be a twosome, or will he win back his ex? (Or go back to the hospital?) Both parties are unstable, but only Tiffany seems aware of that. After her husband's death, Pat learns, she's been engaging in self-destructive behavior; and she cops to it freely. He's the delusional one, using their growing friendship to reach out to his wife (who has a restraining order, no surprise). But in a sense, she's the one who teaches Pat to embrace the crazy, the sadness, and the loss. Pat's obsessive, so she provides him something new to be obsessive about. Football gives way to another contest, and Russell raises the stakes even further, with a bet by Pat Sr., on the final outcome.

Without giving away the final score (in which the Eagles also figure), it emerges that Tiffany is the one truly calling the shots in the movie. Even more than her Oscar-nominated role in Winter's Bone, and beyond the hoopla for those Hunger Games movies, this is a total star turn for Lawrence. Her Tiffany is vulnerable and tough, a schemer protecting her own turf, yet a woman who quite often in the movie goes running after her man. (Pat and Tiffany jogging through their neighborhood becomes, yes, a running joke. Sorry.) What she gets in the end feels earned, and so does the satisfaction provided by Russell's jumpy, nervy, funny romance, one of the best movies this year. If you want a suitable place to nosh after seeing it, Buckley's does just fine--provided there's an Eagles game on. What to eat? I'd order fries and a salad.

 
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