Just back from eight months in a mental institution, to which he'd been consigned after pounding a guy he caught showering with his wife, ex-school teacher Pat Solitano has returned home to Philadelphia to discover...that he has no home. His estranged spouse, Nikki, has sold their house and obtained a restraining order to keep him away from her. Pat's heavy bipolar issues — wild delusions and sudden rages — are still in full, scary effect, but he's determined to win Nikki back. All it will require is working out, losing some weight and thinking positive. ("I'm gonna take all this negativity and use it for fuel!" he announces to his dismayed parents, with whom he's moved back in.)
Then he meets Tiffany, a sour young widow with plenty of issues of her own. ("I was a big slut, but I'm not anymore," she tells Pat very early on.) Tiffany's older sister is a friend of Nikki's, and Pat, thinking positively, leaps at this opportunity to re-establish contact with his runaway wife. Tiffany might help, but she also needs a partner for an upcoming ballroom-dancing competition. Pat can't dance, but Tiffany, in her cockeyed way, is thinking positive, too.
In "Silver Linings Playbook," Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, playing Pat and Tiffany, demonstrate that rare thing, an onscreen chemistry that's completely persuasive. They're wonderfully funny together. Cooper's Pat, in the grip of a raging delusion that he can somehow repossess Nikki, can't see anything outside of this uphill goal. Lawrence's Tiffany, for whom acting very oddly is a full-time occupation, is being driven even battier by her inability to get Pat to see her.
These two are reason enough to see the movie; they've never been better. And 22-year-old Lawrence, especially, is a revelation. Having already excelled in moody drama (she was nominated for an Oscar for "Winter's Bone") and big-budget action ("The Hunger Games"), she here reveals a rousing facility for off-the-wall comedy. The script, written by director David O. Russell ("The Fighter"), is closely adapted from a 2008 novel by Matthew Quick and it provides an un-ebbing flow of knockout lines not just for the stars, but also the unusually strong supporting cast: Robert De Niro as Pat's OCD-impaired dad, a bookie obsessed with the Philadelphia Eagles; Jacki Weaver ("Animal Kingdom") as Pat's mom, obsessed in her own way with concocting "crabbie snacks" (mysterious delicacies that remain mysterious throughout); John Ortiz ("Public Enemies"), playing Pat's best friend, a real-estate hotshot edging ever closer to nervous collapse; and Chris Tucker, back after a five-year hiatus following the last "Rush Hour" movie, playing Pat's fellow mental patient, Danny, a man given to nonstop, baffling blather.
The movie is packed with great scenes, memorable among them Pat's towering rant about the insufficiencies of Hemingway's "A Farewell to Arms," which is hilariously echoed later on by Tiffany's squintingly intense dismissal of "Lord of the Flies." (There's also a cute fanboy moment in which we barely glimpse the marquee of a theatre that's showing "The Midnight Meat Train," the bloody cult horror film in which Cooper starred.) You know that all of this is going to wind up at the big dance competition, but that turns out to be memorable, too.
To call this picture a "romantic comedy" would do it a disservice. The characters are leagues away from the usual rom-com cliches, and the dialogue is far more inventively tart. It's tiresome to hear reviewers hyping this or that funny movie as "the year's best," so I won't. But you get the idea.
Kurt Loder is the film critic for Reason Online. To find out more about Kurt Loder and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.