REVIEW: I've been known to blah on about the hackneyed mechanics of romantic comedies, but when a real cracker comes along - wow - is there any better tonic for the soul?
Silver Linings Playbook is just the medicine.
Despite throwing 'star' ratings all over the place in recent weeks, due to the glut of top-shelf cinema hitting our shores pre-Oscars, I can not recall the last time I walked out of the movie house as satisfied as I did after David O. Russell's stellar screwball comedy.
Genre conventions haven't been thrown out the window or radically refined - somewhat surprising given Russell's renegade roots (Spanking the Monkey, I Heart Huckabees) - but Playbook gets so many of the little things so right.
The script is crisper than a Granny Smith, buoyed by a goofball rhetoric, the characters are given room to reveal their wounds and their wisdom, and the 'boy meets girl' game plan has enough ''play-action'' to keep the audience on its toes.
Okay, what I did just there was drop an American football reference - think of Dan Carter running the ball after shaping to kick - but you'll forgive once you've seen the picture.
Mentally unhinged Pat (Bradley Cooper) returns to his parents' Philadelphia home after eight months in a mental institution. Diagnosed as bipolar, Pat is recovering from a mental meltdown suffered after finding wife bumping uglies in the shower with a co-worker, and Pat subsequently beating said co-worker bloody.
But these days Pat is in a pretty upbeat mood. Okay, his anger still has to be managed and he can't seem to stop himself from saying the stupid and rude things he thinks, but he's all about silver linings; accentuating the positive, even if it's downright delusional.
Pat still thinks his marriage can and should be saved, despite his wife having taken out a restraining order against him.
But as the song says, love is all around - and so is mental illness. Pat's dad, Pat Snr (Robert De Niro, finally finding a role worth his salt), is an obsessive compulsive in denial and obsessed with the Philadelphia Eagles American football team. His relationship with his sons is entirely defined by sports talk.
An emotional mess and proud of it is Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a young widow from the neighbourhood who offers Pat sex as if she's offering a ride home.
Pat and Tiffany find kinship in illness and oddness, albeit a fragile one, and strike up a most rom-com of arrangements. She will deliver a letter to his ex-wife if Pat agrees to be her partner in a dance contest.
In a role that you'd expect to go to a Ben Stiller or Paul Rudd, Cooper brings a fratboy masculinity to Pat, that makes his emotional plight seem all the more awkward. Paired with Lawrence's firebrand, their chemistry needed to snap, crackle and pop, and it does.
Silver Linings Playbook reminds me of Punch-Drunk Love, which was also about sweet, damaged people finding the courage to lower their defences, but the pacing and tone of Russell's picture shouldn't have the multiplex crowd running for the hills the way Paul Thomas Anderson's did.
He deftly takes the familiar and weirds it up a little, but ensures the characters remain people we can recognise. Take Pat Snr. Sports is a crutch for many a father-son relationship, and De Niro, as demented as his character is, still manages to pack the wallop of a middle-linebacker when he admits it's the only way he knows how to bond with his boy.
And for the record, most Eagles fans are crazy. The one time I visited Philly, I got yanked out of the security check at the Liberty Bell and censured for sporting a Dallas Cowboys cap.
Starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jackie Weaver, Chris Tucker, Julia Stiles, Anupam Kher, John Ortiz, Shea Wigham. Written and directed by David O. Russell. 122 minutes, M (violence, offensive language, sexual references).
BEAUTIFUL LOSERS: Jennifer Lawerence and Bradley Cooper kook up the screen in Silver Linings Playbook, a refreshingly left-field romantic comedy.
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