Pat (Bradley Cooper) is a troubled man, fresh out of a court-ordered stay in a psychiatric facility. Released into the custody of his loving parents (Robert Deniro and Animal Kingdom’s Jacki Weaver) he works on getting his life back on track, imbued by a new philosophy to always look for the silver lining with one goal in mind – win back the love (and marriage) of his estranged wife Nikki.
As part of adjusting to life after the hospital, Pat’s invited to dinner at his friends Ronnie and Veronica’s house, where he meets Veronica’s younger sister, the recently widowed – and also troubled – Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who agrees to help him work around Nikki’s restraining order in exchange for his participation in a dance contest.
The resulting storyline is easy enough to guess ahead of time, but the beats of the plot and the way the two central characters relate to each other is the refreshing – and more-than-welcome – change of pace in low-key indie dramedies.
Above all else, it’s great to see a film that doesn’t rely on the tired tradition of “these people we call crazy may be more sane than the rest of us” that’s been exhausted in countless thousands of stories dealing with mental health. The story resolutely acknowledges that Pat and Tiffany’s problems are not only genuine, but a hindrance to their functionality. It’s nice to see Pat’s resistance to taking medication explored, but that things only start to get better when he starts sticking to his dosages. Long tangent cut short – cinema and literature have abused the mental health profession to a point where if the movies were to be believed, there’s never been a single person helped by psychiatry or therapy.
But having said that, it’s nice to see Pat and Tiffany – both aware there’s something wrong with them, and seeing it futile to pretend otherwise – interact with each other and the world around them unburdened by the usual pressures of societal grace.
The film is sweet and lighthearted, but not naïve. It’s every bit as enjoyable as the ads would make it look, but it also acknowledges that the events that lead people to this state of being are not so lighthearted – it’s one of the more genuinely dramatic dramedies out there, because it balances its comedy and drama well, letting one eventuate from the other.
The only real complaint against the film I can think of is that there are too many scenes where everyone talks all at once – it’s done to make you feel as anxious as the central characters, but once or twice is illustrative, more than that is annoying.
But it’s a minor complaint. There’s strong performances a-plenty (nice to see Robert DeNiro reclaiming some dignity, and Chris Tucker being in anything other than the excruciating Rush Hour movies), a funny and endearing script that still plays with some serious ideas, and all up, a well-made little movie.
It’s almost the sort of movie that people call “crowd-pleasing” except I think it’s meant to be a little lore taxing than that. Does it please? Yes – a lot. But does it pamper you throughout saying “there is nothing wrong with the world, now enjoy a happy ending”? No.
It’s the right kind of heartfelt movie that’s not cloying in its sincerity, nor is it a “gritty-slice-of-life.” It is what it is, and what that is happens to be great.