Bradley Cooper plays Pat, who has lost his house, his job, and his wife, and he has just spent eight months in a mental health facility. But now he’s out, diagnosed as having bi-polar disorder and living with his parents (distant, sports-betting father Robert De Niro, loving mother Jacki Weaver), and...he’s still obsessed with getting back together with his wife. This makes his family and few friends worry that Pat is headed right back to the ‘loony bin’ if he’s not careful. But Pat is determined to talk to her, and a little restraining order isn’t going to deter him from his mission. To help him, he enlists the aid of Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a somewhat guarded girl with seemingly deep-rooted issues of her own, who will deliver a letter to the wife, but with a price. Tiffany is a dancer, though not the kind of dancer girls named Tiffany usually are. No, she wants to enter a dance competition, but needs a partner, and ropes Pat into being said partner. Neither of them are professional dancers, mind you, Tiffany’s just barely OK herself, and Pat is a complete novice. At first, Pat is resistant, and it doesn’t seem like the two even like each other. Pat’s inability to filter every thought that comes into his head before speaking certainly doesn’t help. But eventually, a bond develops between the two of them, and Tiffany is clearly sweet on Pat. But can he forget about the wife who probably isn’t coming back, long enough to notice the girl in front of him?
Meanwhile, Mum tries to get Pat and his father (whose own ‘issues’ are hinted at throughout) to bond over the latter’s interest in sports, specifically American football. John Ortiz is hilarious as the best friend who feels completely suffocated being married to Julia Stiles, who is Tiffany’s older and more stable sister (and perfectly cast, I might add). Shea Whigham plays Pat’s brother, who is far more interested in sports than Pat, whilst Chris Tucker plays Pat’s fellow mental patient who keeps trying to flee the cuckoo’s nest as it were.
I held off watching this critically acclaimed 2012 film from eclectic writer-director David O. Russell (“Three Kings”, “The Fighter”) for quite a while, mostly because I haven’t found Jennifer Lawrence to be a particularly accomplished actress so far, and although he seems rather swell in real-life, Bradley Cooper projects a somewhat slimy, jerk persona on screen in most films (I liked him on “Alias”, but so did everybody!) and hasn’t terribly impressed me with his thesping skills. I just didn’t think this would be endurable, for me, even with Robert De Niro and our own Jacki Weaver. Well now I’ve seen it and...yeah, OK Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper can act. I can’t really deny that this is a pretty good, if slightly overrated film, and I enjoyed it a lot more than I was expecting. That said, I think the basic idea of a romance between one or two mentally/emotionally troubled souls was done much more effectively in P.T. Anderson’s “Punch-Drunk Love”, though the films do have definite differences. This one’s a bit more formulaic, for instance, though that isn’t exactly a fatal flaw on its own.
Pretty much everyone here gives a spot-on performance, with John Ortiz and Chris Tucker being especially good fun (Shea Whigham is perfectly cast too), I didn’t even know the latter was capable of being funny. I fully believed Chris Tucker as a mental patient, by the way (in a funny running gag), whilst Ortiz is downright hysterical as a suffocated husband. It’s a shame Weaver doesn’t get a whole lot to do as the supportive mother, but she does it well just the same. I’m not quite sure why such a small role warranted an Oscar nomination, but Dame Judi Dench has won with less screen time, so fair enough.
Robert De Niro is 70 years old. Is anyone else shocked about that? It doesn’t seem right does it? The best thing I can say about his Oscar nominated turn here is that he’s not phoning it in for a change, and he gets one absolutely fantastic scene that on its own probably earned him the nod, and he probably deserved the nomination. It’s the best piece of acting he has done at least since “Meet the Parents”. It’s really touching how this man clearly wants a relationship with the kid, he just doesn’t know how. It’s not his best work by any means, but it’s one of his better turns of the last couple of decades in one of the more worthy film projects he has acted in of late. Then we come to the two leads.
As I said, Jennifer Lawrence had yet to prove to me that she wasn’t a terrible actress, but the difference between her here and in “The Hunger Games” or “X Men: First Class” is truly remarkable. I’m not sure if I would’ve given her the Oscar, but I can’t deny it, she’s really impressive here. Is she great? Nope. Did she deserve the Oscar win? Perhaps not, but is this her best performance to date? Unquestionably, and it’s not an easy role, either. Her character is genuinely interesting too, as I’ve known people with some of the traits her character has.
Bradley Cooper is well-cast and really believable here, despite a couple of unnecessary quirks that make the film seem a tad too sitcom-like (the garbage bag vest, for instance), though they only slightly detract from his otherwise truly spot-on performance. This is by far his best and most substantial role and performance to date, though I did have to wonder at times just how much crazier the guy had to get before he got thrown back in the nuthouse. He seems to get away with an awful lot here. Again, the garbage bag vest is just insane to me. Some of the humour in the film actually works, such as Cooper’s complete lack of a filter. He and Lawrence work well together, and although he seems a good 10-15 years too old for her (he’s too old for Julia Stiles as Lawrence’s sister, if you ask me), at least the issue is actually addressed in the film. The idea of a romance between two ‘crazies’ is hardly new, and turned me off a bit before I actually saw the film, but it is for the most part realistically (if serio-comedically) handled. These are pretty much the only two people out there who could deal with one another on a long-term basis, so you really hope they get it together by the end. The film certainly deserves credit for making me want that to happen, as it doesn’t always happen in romantic films. And that’s what this film is, at the end of the day. A good, solid romantic comedy/drama, with eccentric lead characters that never quite fall into sitcom quirkiness. It does tend to be a bit shouty, though.
By the way, take a look at the street lights in this film. No amber filters or colour correction, just normal lights and a lot of darkness. I know no one else cares about this issue, but it bugs the shit out of me, and I wholeheartedly appreciated cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi (“The Grey”) taking a more natural approach to lighting the film. The shaky-cam, I appreciated quite a bit less, but I’m sure many will see a thematic relevance to such a shooting approach. And while we’re talking barely relevant, trivial matters, Danny Elfman (“Batman”, “Mars Attacks!”, “Sleepy Hollow”) contributes the least Elfman-esque score of his entire career. It’s practically invisible. The film is based on a novel by Matthew Quick, and there seems to be a lot of debate as to its faithfulness to the text, which I’m afraid I haven’t read. Whatever, I just know it’s a good movie, if not quite worthy of being in the Top 10 of the year.