Few things are more reliably embarrassing than Hollywood’s attempts to address mental illness, especially in the context of a romantic comedy (or “dramedy,” since one can only make so much light of a serious mood disorder). Fifteen years ago, As Good as It Gets saw Helen Hunt win an Oscar for making Jack Nicholson want to be a better man, in a painful misrepresentation of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Now Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games) employs her own steely, cut-the-crap moves to beguile a bipolar Bradley Cooper in the equally phony—yet also highly acclaimed, for some reason—Silver Linings Playbook.
Newly sprung from an eight-month stint in the psych ward following a violent altercation with his wife’s lover, Cooper’s Pat Solitano wants nothing more than to repair his marriage. But a restraining order forces him into a tempestuous relationship with a buddy’s widowed sister-in-law (Lawrence), who’s every bit his equal when it comes to manic episodes.
The film was adapted from Matthew Quick’s novel by David O. Russell (Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees), who struggles in vain to find a coherent tone; early scenes are a nonstop cavalcade of shouting and “kooky” aberrant behavior, all of which somehow gets shoehorned into a formulaic finale involving both a professional football game (Pat’s dad, played by Robert De Niro, is a sports bookie—with his own OCD issues, no less) and an amateur dance contest. Nothing rings true, least of all the crowd-pleasing notion that manic depression magically vanishes if you find the right partner.