Written & Directed by: David O. Russell, based on the novel by Matthew Quick
After coming home to find his wife in the shower with another man, Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) snapped and almost almost beat the man to death. He was court ordered into an inpatient psychiatric facility, where he discovered he had undiagnosed bipolar disorder. Rejecting medications, because their side effects compromised his sense of self, Pat learned to talk the talk and go through the motions of treatment. After eight months, his mother checks him out against medical advice.
Now Pat’s living with his mother (Jacki Weaver) and father (Robert DeNiro), who has perfected both football fandom and OCD to an art form, With aggressive optimism, Pat resolves to rebuild his life and reconcile with his wife, Nikki. He has a game plan for winning Nikki back, despite one teeny-tiny complication: she seems to want nothing to do with him and actually has a restraining order against him. His intrepid plan starts with reading all the books on Nikki’s syllabus for her high school students.
In one particularly memorable scene, Pat is infuriated by the ending of a Hemingway novel, screams “WHAT THE F-U-U-CK!!” and hurls it through a windowpane. I almost reacted that way to a few of the movies my daughter has introduced me to. Unfortunately a DVD doesn’t have as much heft as a book; I couldn’t propel it through a window.
Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a young woman struggling with grief and depression; promiscuity has been her drug of choice. Pat and Tiffany are both wounded and socially awkward, but they have a hopeful, exuberant quality. When Tiffany agrees to help Pat reconnect with his estranged wife, they forge a tentative bond.
I am usually a tough customer when it comes to films about individuals with mental illness. I’ve lived too close to the subject, both personally and professionally, and seen too many cliched, unnecessarily ugly, or overly sentimental portrayals of the subject.
I have read that David O. Russell was drawn to this story because of his son’s bipolar disorder, so he is probably one of those people who “gets it.” And to its credit, the film didn’t strive to explore mental illness in depth. It does something so much better. It tells a story of two unique, richly developed characters who have mental illness. It is one facet of their lives and relationship — it doesn’t define them — and it feels honest and real. This film also offers something that, in my opinion, is as rare as … well … affordable psychiatrists. A smart, funny romantic comedy that actually made me root for the players. I couldn’t resist their blend of painful awkwardness, intelligence, vulnerability, and passion.
Bradley and Lawrence played their roles beautifully, often expressing more with a single look than most romantic films manage to convey with reams of dialogue. The supporting cast was equally good. The protagonist’s dad, Pat Senior, is wonderfully insane in his own right. My husband and I were beyond thrilled by the first terrific performance we’ve seen by Robert DeNiro in more years that we cared to count. WOO-HOO … he’s BACK! Jacki Weaver, as Pat’s mom — the woman who tries to hold it together for the two crazy men in her life — portrayed the character with subtlety, making her incredibly real.
I was prepared to be let down, but this movie is actually as good as everyone says it is. The writing, acting, and directing have just the right chemistry, and it offers my favorite dance scene outside of Pulp Fiction.