Playbook a good kind of mood swing

Stop that snickering! There’s nothing really wrong with Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper).

Silver Linings Playbook

Three and a half stars (out of four)

Rated: 14A

Stop that snickering! There’s nothing really wrong with Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper).

In Silver Linings Playbook, a very funny movie about being a little crazy, Pat isn’t just looking on the bright side. He’s a regular ray o’ sunshine, as long as you don’t rile him.

He’s taken up running and lost a pile of weight. He’s working on winning back his wife, who left Pat and now has a restraining order against him.

“I’m remaking myself,” he tells everybody.

Who would doubt him? Just because he nearly killed the man he caught naked with his spouse. Just because he trashes his shrink’s office after hearing his wedding tune My Cheri Amour in the waiting room.

People leap to conclusions about Pat. So what if he spent eight months in a Baltimore psychiatric institute, where he learned he’s “undiagnosed bipolar with mood swings?” Can’t everybody see he’s OK now?

“I’m not the explosion guy. My father is the explosion guy.”

Yes, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) does have his mood swings, too. Especially when his beloved Philadelphia Eagles fail on the gridiron, which happens too often. Good thing his devoted wife (Jackie Weaver) keeps him supplied with a constant supply of beer and homemade Italian snacks.

And what’s with this strange girl, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence)? Why does she keep following Pat around his Philly neighbourhood? A recent widow — her police officer husband died — she’s been bingeing on one-night stands. Maybe she’s the one who’s nuts, although she doesn’t think so, either.

“I was a big slut,” she says, “but I’m not any more.”

Writer/director David O. Russell has his work cut out for him making sense of this crew, let alone winning our sympathies.

You think his characters are bipolar? Russell’s screenplay, adapted from Matthew Quick’s 2008 novel, veers from brow-furrowing drama to screwball comedy, sometimes within the same scene.

A story about serious mental health and family challenges slowly but surely becomes a grinner about a dance contest, the outcome of which you end up actually caring about.

You don’t begrudge or judge these mood swings, not like you might have with I Heart Huckabees, the last film Russell wrote as well as directed. That one was zany just for the sake of zaniness.

Silver Linings Playbook actually does have a heart. It doesn’t mock mental illness; it questions our rigid definitions of “normal” and “sane.” Russell learned something about people making The Fighter, an Oscar-nominated picture about overcoming personal issues that also included some boxing.

This new one, also Academy bound, has a cast shooting sparks. Cooper has never been funnier or more vulnerable. Lawrence demonstrates her comic chops, having already proven her dramatic skills in A Winter’s Bone and The Hunger Games. A scene where she deflates De Niro’s pomposity is worthy of Kate Hepburn. She and Cooper make a great couple, sassy and sexy.

And what lightning bolt struck De Niro? He’s actually been on a roll lately, including a solid previous teaming with Cooper for Limitless, that suggests he’s tired of phoning it in — or maybe just of people accusing him of phoning it in. He digs into this funny and rich role of a dad who loves too much, especially if it has anything to do with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Weaver is grand, too, and so are supporting players that include Chris Tucker (where you been, man?), Anupam Kher, John Ortiz and Julia Stiles, as the enablers and disablers who cross paths with our silver linings searchers.

Silver Linings Playbook isn’t perfect — the ending is untidy — but it may just be the year’s best comedy. People who attended TIFF already know this, because they gave it the fest’s audience award.

You must see it. Otherwise people will think you’re crazy.

Peter Howell is a syndicated Toronto Star movie critic.

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