It’s been 8 months since Patrick “Pat” Solatano Jr (Bradley Cooper) has seen his wife Nikki (Brea Bee). No, she’s not missing. She’s not dead either. She has a restraining order against him and he’s just come out of a mental institution. I’ll spare you the details. Due to the circumstances of his release, he has to move back in with his father Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) and mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver). He is determined to win his wife back and sort his life out and along the way he meets troubled young widow Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) and an unexpected bond begins to form.
Director David O. Russell (American Hustle, The Fighter) is known for producing unique, unexpected indie films with rich characters, their unusual idiosyncrasies and some absurd humour. His formula has been hit-or-miss of late, but it’s his trademark just the same. Here he dons the hat of both writer (with Matthew Quick’s novel as inspiration) and director and produces another story of a dysfunctional family and a working class underdog like in The Fighter. Pat Jr is, however, not quite as likeable as Mark Wahlberg’s Micky Ward. Pat Jr is an explosive character, prone to violence.
Russell proves how effective his writing is and skillfully retains a comical tone throughout the movie without losing sight of the more serious psychological aspects. The family he invents have pains and anxieties he doesn’t gloss over, but neither does the tone of the film suffer. It is not weighed down by the heavy subject matter but buoyed by the authentic, odd and passionate set of people in Maryland.
In order to execute his eccentric romantic drama, Russell needed a strong cast and everyone delivers on that front. Leading lady Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games) continues to prove she can excel at her craft with her Oscar-winning turn as Tiffany. She exceptionally portrays a complex young woman, intelligent and acutely aware of her personality traits. Cooper is wonderful as the doe-eyed, surprisingly upbeat Pat set on making his own way, his own silver linings. Lawrence and Cooper are electric as the odd friends and the on-screen chemistry is palpable, belying the 15 year age gap. De Niro is Pat Sr, unobtrusively charming with problems of his own as the patriarchal head of the family, with the brilliant Jacki Weaver supporting him as Dolores. The supporting cast each bring another facet to the story ultimately about Tiffany and Pat, their respective tragedies that they learn to overcome, with a little healing for the father and son too.
Mental illness is one of those things you don’t really joke about. There’s a fine line to tread between funny and offensive. Thankfully Russell, along with a brilliant cast, successfully navigate this tightrope. It’s laugh out loud funny, it’s unpredictable (like its characters) and it’s head and shoulders above the usual machinations of a rom-com.
What did you think? Not a silver lining in sight or a great unconventional story? Your turn on the soapbox in 3, 2, 1.