As a personal rule, I normally avoid comedies or dramas that involve romance. I find the formula tedious and repetitive, not to mention, dull. However, director David O. Russell's material is often interesting and off-beat so I decided that I wouldn't overlook this one (especially when it features my favourite actor in Robert DeNiro). I have to say, I have renewed faith in the genre when there are talented people involved and it's futile to resist one with such depth and unpredictability as this has.
Pat Solotano Jr., (Bradley Cooper) is discharged from a state metal health institution after an eight month spell for bi-polar disorder that has led to him violently beating his wife's lover. When released, he lives with his parents Dolores (Jacki Weaver) and Pat, Sr. (Robert DeNiro) and decides to get himself fit and healthy again to gain back his estranged spouse. While out jogging, he crosses paths with Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a recovering sex addict with mental health issues of her own but as their friendship grows, they realise that they can both help each other to achieve to their goals.
David O. Russell has tackled dysfunctional families before in "Flirting with Disaster" and "The Fighter" and mental health in "I Heart Huckabees" so in many ways, he's on comfortable ground here and thankfully for us, it shows. He has a complete command over his material and even though you'd be forgiven for thinking that this is just your average, boy-meets-girl, romantic comedy, it isn't. It teeters on the edge of formula but it also knows how to play with it and never becomes predictable. The ace in Russell's pack, though, is the immeasurable help by a talented and commited cast. All the performances are absolutely excellent; Bradley Cooper is an actor that was always just been passable for me but here he shows a very impressive side to his acting talents; Jennifer Lawrence has impressed before in "Winter's Bone" and "The Hunger Games" but this may well be her finest performance to date as she balances vulnerability and strength with ease. My favourite of the bunch, though, was seeing DeNiro finally get a role where he's able deliver a whole range of emotions. One moment he's breaking your heart, the next he's in a fit of rage and also adds a lovely comic touch to things. Although, I was surprised at his Oscar nomination, I also wouldn't argue with it. It's great to have him back doing what he does best and hopefully this is the catalyst for bigger and better roles for him. I think we can all admit that he's deserving of better material than he's been getting of late. Added to which, apparently, it was DeNiro's absolute commitment to the film that encouraged the rest of the cast to raise their game. While we're on the subject of awards, all the leading performers have been Oscar nominated for their turns here (and that includes the great Jacki Weaver) - This is the first time this has been achieved by a cast since Warren Beatty's political drama "Reds" in 1984. It's also doesn't hinder things when the talented likes of Chris Tucker and Shea Whigham are pitching in from the sidelines either. Ultimately, the plaudits must go to Russell for the deft handling of the material, though. Yes, it has generic elements of the genre but by the end, it can't be pigeonholed and the characters aren't your average troubled souls that are played for laughs or zaniness. There is a depth and pathos to their struggle and the intermingling of their fractured, dysfunctional obsessions is a hard balance to achieve. Russell manages it with aplomb and every one of his cast do too.
I've always been a fan of the off-beat nature of David O. Russell's work but he has surpassed himself here and delivers an astute, not to mention, very refreshing commentary on mental illness.