Bradley Cooper gives his best performance to date in Silver Linings Playbook. He's a ray of sunshine in a sparkling blue sky of a movie and this also feels like the natural habitat of writer-director David O Russell who, after getting Oscar attention with his conventional drama The Fighter, reverts to the screwball, tangential approach of previous films like Flirting with Disaster and Three Kings.
The air of cool surrounding Cooper in The Hangover and The A-Team becomes a distant memory from the moment his mum (Jacki Weaver) picks him up from a psychiatric facility where he was committed after beating his wife's lover to a pulp. He has no choice but to return to the parental home where dad Pat Senior (Robert De Niro, on form) tries to bond via football on the telly.
He has bipolar disorder, yet Pat is convinced that he is well and that life can be wonderful, if only...
Pat is not easily swayed from the course, even when a seductive young widow Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) throws herself at him. He calls her out on her "poor social skills" before rejecting her advances with shocking bluntness, and yet she literally chases him in the streets every day on his morning jog. It's only when she offers herself as a go-between with his wife that he stops running.
The banter between Pat and Tiffany is just as sharp and upfront, guaranteeing a laugh a minute and the rapport that Cooper has with De Niro adds surprising depth. They pull him in different directions from the football stadium to the dance studio where Tiffany is training Pat for a competition (in exchange for mediating with his wife) and he's driven to the edge again, trying to make good.
Lawrence is a perfect match for Cooper and, like him, makes vulnerability a strength. Initially, the ballroom contest feels like a contrivance but Russell doesn't let it overtake the story, instead making it a metaphor for people out of step with the world, struggling to connect. The result is a deliriously funny and disarmingly poignant love story that's sure to brighten the outlook of even the hardest cynic.