Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) is in a bit of a blue funk. It’s not enough that he was confined to a mental institution after catching his wife with another man and nearly beating the guy to death. Now this turbulently bipolar blunderer is emerging from his time away with no job, no house (back to Mom and Dad he goes!) and pariah status among everyone except the really cute, emotionally disturbed girl next door (Jennifer Lawrence).
Sounds like a recipe for a bad ol’ Indiewood melodrama, right? But the primary pleasure of this black romantic comedy, adapted by writer-director David O. Russell from Matthew Quick’s novel, is how jagged-edged everything is, with a stellar group of actors spouting overlapping, acid-tongued dialogue like their lives depended on it. This shouldn’t be surprising for those familiar with Russell’s singular cinema-of-hysteria: Beginning with his incest-farce feature debut, Spanking the Monkey (1994), the filmmaker has created a uniquely discomfiting body of work that explores distinctly American neuroses with bracing specificity and frequent hilarity.
In its best scenes, Silver Linings plays like a greatest-hits compilation. Cooper’s baby-faced protagonist has a nerve-jangled family—led by football-obsessed patriarch Robert De Niro—that echoes the too-close-for-comfort Coplin clan from Russell’s Flirting with Disaster (1996). And characters frequently hold forth with pointedly satirical psychobabble that wouldn’t be out of place in the director’s caustic I Heart Huckabees (2004). Russell’s dissonant narrative left-turns are also prevalent; what other gray-cloud romance contains both frighteningly realistic familial outbursts and a jokey amateur dance competition? Yet it’s impossible to shake the sense that what felt thrillingly, cohesively alive in the director’s earlier movies plays here with more laurel-resting creakiness than go-for-broke verve. Russell’s once-mercurial assets have become a formula.
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