After seeing "Silver Linings Playbook," I wondered if I'm going crazy.
Not crazy in the way we find many of the unhinged characters in the movie (and, I'm guessing, in the Matthew Quick novel from which it is adapted). But crazy in the sense that I'm missing something that many of my more rapturous critical brethren the ones who are lauding writer-director David O. Russell's offbeat comedy as a major Oscar contender seem to have found.
Bradley Cooper stars in a role far removed from the studly, in-control party animal from the "Hangover" films as Pat Solitano Jr. A Philadelphia-area high school teacher, Pat just completed a stretch in a mental institution over some stalker-like activity involving his ex-wife. He moves back home with his parents, a football-mad and OCD-afflicted dad (Robert De Niro) and his accommodating Mom (Jacki Weaver), and talks in freshly learned support-group aphorisms about "silver linings" as he vows to make things right with his ex.
While reuniting with his old friend Ronnie (John Ortiz) and Ronnie's decor-obsessed wife, Veronica (Julia Stiles), Pat meets Veronica's sister Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). Tiffany turns out to be more messed up than Pat, if such a thing was possible: She's the widow of a police officer, and was recently fired from her job for having grief-induced sex with, oh, everybody. She zigzags from offering to have sex with Pat to cajoling him into helping her win an amateur dance competition.
Tiffany is aware that her life is messed up, as witnessed by her response when another cop (Dash Mihok) identifies her as "Tommy's widow." "Yes, I'm Tommy's crazy whore widow minus the whore thing sometimes."
If you graded dialogue delivery the way Olympic gymnastics judges did, Lawrence would be rewarded for degree of difficulty and because she sticks the landing. Lawrence, already world-famous as Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games," proves her mettle with an uncompromising and acidly funny performance of a complex yet charming character.
It's further tribute to Lawrence's talent that she goes toe-to-toe with De Niro, in one of his best performances in a decade, and hangs even with him. De Niro leads a great supporting cast of oddballs, which includes Stiles' Martha Stewart wannabe and Chris Tucker as a fellow patient of Pat's with a habit of releasing himself prematurely from the facility.
Alas, Lawrence's bold performance and her fearlessly sexual character are more than Russell knows how to harness. He tries to showcase Lawrence's Tiffany and Cooper's Pat in a screwball romantic comedy, emphasis on the "screwball," in the mode of his 1999 film "Flirting With Disaster." But something whether it's Cooper's overly mannered mania or the too-conventional ending keeps "Silver Linings Playbook" from spiraling to the dizzying heights it might have achieved.
'Silver Linings Playbook'
Jennifer Lawrence gives a fierce performance as a screwed-up widow, whose more than her love interest (Bradley Cooper) or this manic movie can handle.
Where • Theaters everywhere.
When • Opens Wednesday, Nov. 21.
Rating • R for language and some sexual content/nudity.
Running time • 122 minutes.