I was first introduced to director David O. Russell back in 1996 when I saw FLIRTING WITH DISASTER, a terrific and hilarious dysfunctional family flick. He also made the awesome THREE KINGS, I HEART HUCKABEES (sorry hipsters, I haven’t seen that one yet), and the Oscar-nominated THE FIGHTER. There has been a lot of buzz on his latest film, so I was looking forward to checking it out, though the trailers looked rather ordinary.
Pat has just recently been released from a mental institution. He went momentarily crazy when he caught his wife in the shower with another man, and beat the dude pretty badly. Because of this incident, he has major depression not to mention severe anger issues (there’s even a song that triggers his temper). Trying to get his life back together, he moves in with his folks, and attempts to get his wife back. Pat goes over to his friend’s house for dinner one night where he meets his friend’s wife sister, Tiffany. She’s just as messed up as he is. She suffers from depression too since her husband passed away. The two form an unlikely friendship as they bond over their metal illnesses. Tiffany asks Pat to help her with a dance routine, and before you know it, the two have signed up for a competition. Tiffany is growing feelings for Pat, but Pat thinks that if his wife see him in the dance competition, she’ll think he’s applying himself more and will want him back. But then…. Pat begins to have feelings for Tiffany too.
There’s actually a lot of different character things going on here. Besides the two leads, there is a major subplot involving Pat’s father, whose obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles is beyond destructive. There’s also Pat’s former institution roommate who keeps escaping, Pat’s relationship with his therapist, and a local cop trying to keep Pat in check. It’s a lot of characters for a writer/director to balance, and Russell pulls it off with pretty amazing results.
I identified with the two leads considerably. I suffer from depression and a severe panic disorder, and I have been on medication before as well. This movie deals with those conditions in a bluntly honest light. They didn’t shy away from it. It was really nice seeing a movie with flawed people as the central characters, especially in a romantic comedy. Most entries in this genre feature perfect people who don’t exist in reality. But here, they feel real. The strength of this movie is the chemistry between Pat and Tiffany. They’re interaction is the heart of the film. But I also found some of the subplots effective too, especially the scenes featuring Pat’s father. Because of these scenes, it totally makes sense why Pat is the way he is.
The acting is outstanding! I had no idea Bradley Cooper could actually do more than just laugh at whatever Zach Galifianakis does in the HANGOVER movies. Pat is a ticking time bomb, and Cooper successfully brings a lot of intensity to the role. You always feel like he can explode at any moment. But he also displays a likable tender side. Even though he’s far, far from perfect, you ARE rooting for him to get better. Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as Tiffany is a revelation. One would think she would be too young for the part (she’s 15 years younger than Cooper), but she displays a maturity far beyond her years. I absolutely fell in love with her character. Tiffany is a lost soul looking to be rescued, and I just wanted to save her. She’s vulgar, but vulnerable. That’s sexy! Lawrence acts her ass off here, and it’s easily one of the best performances of the year.
The supporting cast is led by Robert De Niro as Pat’s father. Man, is it nice to see him act again! It’s an actual performance. I’m so glad he’s done with those stupid Focker movies. De Niro goes through all the emotions here as it’s a deeply layered performance. Hope he gets nominated. The rest of the cast is fine. Jacki Weaver is solid as the mom, but gets outshined by the other actors. Chris Tucker plays Pat’s former roommate from the institution and is respectively restrained. Julia Stiles, John Ortiz and Dash Mihok all do fine work. Occasionally some of the supporting characters get a little to cute on occasion, like Pat’s psychiatrist, but for the most part, they’re grounded in reality.
Director Russell understands that this is an actors film, so he mostly lets the actors do their thing. But he shoots the movie with subtle handheld movement, giving the audience just a hint of uneasiness, which fits the quirkiness of the characters. The structure of the script is also well thought out as suspense builds up to the dance competition. The way Pat and Tiffany’s relationship builds is perfect. This is a great love story! You really want these people to be together. I truly felt like they belonged with each other. I was emotionally involved, and that doesn’t happen often in romantic comedies.
Now, this isn’t your typical rom-com. This doesn’t have Sandra Bullock acting like an idiot for 90 minutes. This is a smart, edgy, brutally honest romance that will shake you up, but will have you hoping these characters will end up with each other. I think there are a lot of people who will be able to relate to this. Depression and anxiety is something that most folks are too ashamed to admit they have. But this movie gives hope of a happy life for people with those conditions. It’s going to speak to a lot of people. Except maybe normal people. Best romantic comedy in years! ★★★½ (out of ★★★★)
– Rated R for language and some sexual content/nudity.
– Running time: 2hrs. 1min.