It's not an unreasonable complaint, worrying that confident, pretty Bradley Cooper is miscast as Pat, the frazzled bipolar soul at the center of Silver Linings Playbook. But the actor's bland handsomeness, something until now less chiseled than forgettably cookie-cutter, finally magnetizes here, finally taps into a force that can repel as surely as it attracts.
For this, Cooper can thank four collaborators. First, writer-director David O. Russell (adapting Matthew Quick's novel with a free hand), whose script, all torrents and volleys, is flawless and whose style this time, all pushes and swerves, is its own participant in the narrative. Russell never stays with his leading man a moment too long or leaves him a second too early.
And that's saying something because Cooper's Pat is, in thumbnail (and in that easy first name), someone we've seen many times: the Blockbuster version of mania-prone, nonthreatening, delusional mental illness, the kind of depression that can be treated with meds and cured with Natalie Portman. Russell and Cooper, though, have made Pat someone else, someone thornier and less consolable, and for a longer stretch than is usually allowed by a picture that's unapologetically headed for the hypothalamus' feel-good bull's-eye. (Naysayers may carp that Russell has made Jerry Maguire Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Naysayers should keep this to themselves.)
Second, Cooper and Russell can both thank Jennifer Lawrence, combustible anywhere but explosive here as Tiffany — every bit the no-filter blurter Pat is but in a different (and maybe deeper) jeopardy. The usual version of movie-woman crazy, which punishes self-awareness and sexual confidence with predictable doom, gets its ass handed to it several times, yet Lawrence never settles for simple anger. It's a big deal, this performance.
Thanks third and fourth, Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver, who, as Pat's parents, are allowed unexpected depth, friction and warmth. They're reason enough to see this movie a second time. (Russell's deep bench also includes Chris Tucker, Anupam Kher, John Ortiz and Julia Stiles, each given more than one crack at some kind of truth, each nailing it.)
Executing Russell's complex vision is cinematographer Masanobu Takayanagi. As his camera follows and trails characters, sometimes guiding them and sometimes goading, his light and focus mimic the dulled edges and softened centers of medicated depression. One of Silver Linings' rewards is its last-act dropping away of that Prozac palette in favor of sharp colors and revelatory illumination.