Mental illness is no fun, making a film about such a topic is fraught with risk. Sanitise the condition and be accused of soft soaping or show it like it really is and wave goodbye to a mainstream audience.
Director David O. Russell has managed to find a delicate balance and tone, that for the most part works exceptionally well. A film about a serious mental condition but deceptively, not really about that at all
Pat (Bradley Cooper) is suffering from a previously undiagnosed bipolar disorder. We meet him as he is released from hospital following a traumatic event, neatly essayed in flashback, to live with his parents as part of his release conditions.
His eternally optimistic mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver) is hopeful that everything will turn out well but is realistic about Pat’s chances. Pat senior (De Niro), is less convinced but is pleased that is son is home and relies on him to bring luck to his beloved Philly Eagles. Games he must now watch from home, for reasons explained later.
Following a couple of false starts, Pat with optimistic catchphrases in place, is keen to win back his wife, restraining order not withstanding. He gradually starts to find a rhythm and balance to his life and is greatly aided by a relationship he strikes up with Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). Tiffany has more than a few issues of her own to deal with and the pair eventually team up for an unlikely dance tournament. Subconsciously deciding that two “crazies” working together might be just enough to get through the day.
As Pat learns to cope with life outside, we follow their character arc through their relationship with Pat’s family, friends and counsellor (Kher).
If this sounds all a bit heavy, you would be wrong. The first segment is perhaps a tough watch in parts but if you stay with the story, a gentle rom-com emerges which errs just this side of believable.
Sure, there are parts where some Hollywood movie magic has been sprinkled but without this lightening of the story, many might be put off, which would be a shame.
Cooper proves he can act without a Hangover and Lawrence again shows her range as she remorselessly powers into the Hollywood A-list. Here posting a spirited turn, just rewarded with a best actress Oscar award. De Niro and Weaver provide solid support with De Niro finally finding a role that at least partially uses his talents.
If nothing else, the story points to a universal truth, that the patients in the hospital are not the only “crazy” people around. Many of those close to Pat have problems of their own, they just cope a little better. Any film that attempts to make this subtle point is to be applauded and the screenplay, although uneven in parts, does a good job of making this both palatable and entertaining to a multiplex audience.
There is plenty to enjoy, whether your level of cynicism or life experience allows you to fall wholeheartedly for the story is up to you, there is a guilty pleasure to be enjoyed here for those that can.
A well crafted and acted story, which manages to morph into a feel-good movie, without selling out or betraying the worthy underlying message.
Entertaining, thoughtful and for the majority of the running time, a story and characters you can root for and believe in.