Patrick (Bradley Cooper) is being released from the mental hospital in Baltimore today, against the wishes of his doctors but they have been overruled by his mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver) who wants to look after him at home. The reason he was in there was because he had an undiagnosed bipolar disorder resulting in him attacking the lover of his wife Nikki (Brea Bee) when he found them both in the shower one day, the shock of the experience sending him over the edge. But can Dolores and his father Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) really take care of him when he refuses to take medication?
For a long while, films about mental illness could be divided into two caetgories: first, the ones where the sufferer turns to violence, often in extravagant manner - see Psycho, The Shining, and so forth - and second, where the afflicted are somehow blessed with a fresh and novel way of looking at the world which makes you wonder who is the real mad person - see King of Hearts, The Dream Team, et cetera. For this long in the planning adaptation of Matthew Quick's book, director David O. Russell opted not to go for one or the other, but to seek a common ground between the two in an attempt to divine some truth in the portrayal of the condition.
So Pat is prone to explosive behaviour, but isn't likely to kill anyone, though that hasn't stopped Nikki from getting a restraining order against her estranged husband, which could have taken the plot down some very dark paths. Then again, while the film appeared to be resisting the "Ain't they cute?" attitude to those who see the world differently, that only lasted as far as the first half of the story, by which time Pat Sr.'s obsessive compulsive antics regarding his favourite football team, which don't prevent him from getting on with life but noticeably get in the way, has established itself as a strong narrative point. And of course, the romantic angle would have intruded in Pat's life, though not for him and his ex.
Nope, he got to be courted by a twentysomething widow who happens to be what the movies would regularly describe as a nymphomaniac, though Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) is never slotted into that crass assignation. She has slept with most of her office, women as well as men, before being fired, and is now trying to recover much as Pat is, which could be why she latches onto him, following him as he goes out jogging. That said, while she could have been a cliché of a ditzy ideal woman for him to go lightly nuts with for the rest of his days, Lawrence, who won an Oscar for her performance, managed to make Tiffany more interesting than that in a deliberately hard to read style, so that you're not entirely sure what it going on in her head until practically the final scene.
It was a strong cast, and the details of the illness were well observed, from the big things like a fixation on whatever might be bothering the patient blown up to all-consuming proportions to the little things in passing, such as the neighbours looking on anxiously when Pat ventures out. Cooper and Lawrence got the depiction of the character's way of carrying themselves, often like a drunk trying to convince people they're sober, pretty convincingly, but once the dancing part began to dominate the silver linings became more apparent. It was as if Russell and his team didn't have the heart to allow the couple to leave the movie worse off than they were at the beginning, or even in the same state, so there had to be an emphasis on optimism complete with a very Hollywood finale set at the dancing competition. You didn't begrudge Pat and Tiffany their happiness - if that was where they were destined, for there were no guarantees, to be fair, but it was an odd mix not quite blended between the comedy, romance and drama. An interesting step, however. Music by Danny Elfman.