Last updated: February 19. 2013 11:50PM - 134 Views

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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Movies about the mentally ill tend to render them in cute, charming strokes – with only the occasional blast of ugly to remind us, Oh, yeah, this gorgeous, lovelorn soul is still crazy.

And Silver Linings Playbook has a hint of that. You cast Bradley Cooper as a mentally ill man who probably got out of the psychiatric ward a bit too early, and Jennifer Lawrence as a young cop's widow who isn't really coping with that fact, and the Hollywood ending is written all over it.

But Cooper gives his most natural, affecting and compelling performance yet as Pat, a divorced ex-school teacher who won't accept the fact that he's divorced, or that the school system would never rehire him. People may duck him in amusing ways, but the message is clear. He's dangerous.

And as Tiffany, Lawrence makes us forget her dewy youth just minutes into her brittle, biting turn as a woman whose unbalanced rage is even more cleverly concealed than Pat's.

Pat's mom (Jacki Weaver of Animal Kingdom) is the one who has the faith that her son would be better off at home in Philadelphia. His sports-nut dad (Robert De Niro, perfect) isn't so sure. When Pat pulls a plastic garbage bag over his sweatshirt so that he can jog and lose weight faster, Dad seems to have a point.

I'm getting really fit for Nikki, the son explains. That's the ex-wife Pat expects to win back.

Others aren't that delusional, which is why the shrill Veronica (Julia Stiles) nags her husband (John Ortiz) to invite Pat, whom she fears and despises, to dinner. She wants the mentally unstable guy to meet her mentally unstable sister, Tiffany. Is Veronica an idiot?

But that jaw-droppingly awkward dinner meeting is where this David O. Russell film takes off. The sparks fly between these two – and not necessarily romantic ones. They have an easy rapport, joking and comparing medications. But Pat's unshakable belief that he's winning back his ex, who has a restraining order on him, makes him seem touchier, scarier and further gone than Tiffany. Until testy Tiffany takes a moment to assure us that's a much tighter race than you'd expect.

Silver Linings Playbook, adapted from Matthew Quick's novel, is a ringing endorsement of the talking cure, two people whose professional counseling is nothing compared with the ways they challenge each other and themselves to get better, each to make a better impression on the other.

Not that this will work, of course. We have to take it as a matter of faith that whatever happens, the Hollywood ending this film delivers will be unexpected, even if we – like the characters – have to look extra hard for that silver lining.

If you go

What: Silver Linings Playbook

Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Shea Whigham, Julia Stiles, Chris Tucker

Directed by: David O. Russell

Running time: 115 minutes

Rating: R, for language and some sexcual content/nudity

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