There’s a therapist and mental illness, which is too often depicted as a tacked-on quality, that when lifted becomes “character development” using the therapist as a lazy way to rattle off backstory. All of this is in the trappings of a romantic comedy, which obviously are often emotionally manipulative, unsubtle and formulaic.
Russell manages to avoid most of these traps, and the few flaws that do pop up are trampled by the film’s frantic energy and pace, drawn by its ultimate destiny of a happy ending.
Bradley Cooper turns in a solid performance as Pat, a man with latent mental illness that comes to a head when he catches his wife cheating on him. The movie begins with Cooper leaving the mental institution in Baltimore to return home to Philadelphia and live with his parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver).
While frantically trying to reunite with his wife, who has a restraining order placed on him, Cooper meets Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence also suffers from mental illness after the death of her husband. The two form an unstable friendship based on a deal where Lawrence will take a letter to Cooper’s wife if he’ll enter a dance competition with her.
The prepping for the competition provides a vehicle for therapy for Lawrence and Cooper, who both portray average-at-best dancers.
And the two performances are two very different portrayals of broken people trying to put themselves together. Where Cooper takes his typical goofy style and pushes it to the manic edge, Lawrence pushes her pain inward, letting it simmer and occasionally boil over.
The film rests on their performances. Cooper and Lawrence, and for the most part the entire ensemble, portray characters that resemble actual well- rounded humans rather than the one-dimensional characters usually portrayed in rom-coms. And boy is it good to see De Niro sink his teeth into a character after nearly a decade of fluff roles.
De Niro wasn’t the only actor that was nice to see get meaningful work again. Chris Tucker returns to the silver screen for his first movie not part of the “Rush Hour” franchise since 1997. And Tucker makes the most of his role as he pops up in different parts of the story.
TimesDaily Staff Writer Bobby Bozeman can be reached at 256-740-5722 or bobby.bozeman@TimesDaily.com. His review column is published the fourth Friday of each month.