PLOT: A bipolar man hoping to win back his wife meets a young woman with problems of her own.
BOTTOM LINE: Cooper and Lawrence make a wonderfully prickly pair in this skewed charmer from David O. Russell ("The Fighter"). It's messy, silly, embarrassingly romantic and impossible to resist.
CAST: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Chris Tucker
Some movies are so likable, so naturally charming, that you'll forgive any dopey idea they throw at you. "Silver Linings Playbook" is one of them. It's the story of a mentally imbalanced couple who must win a dance contest to help start a restaurant -- see what I mean? -- but the movie has such a loosey-goosey energy and so many winning performances that you'll walk out feeling all warm and fuzzy.
Directed and written by David O. Russell ("The Fighter") from Matthew Quick's novel, "Silver Linings Playbook" is the kind of heart-on-sleeve romance that Cameron Crowe once did so well, though its characters have darker edges. Bradley Cooper plays Pat Solatano, a bipolar man hoping to win back his ex-wife despite a pesky restraining order; Jennifer Lawrence is Tiffany, a young widow who's been drowning her sorrows in casual sex. Introduced by Tiffany's icy sister (Julia Stiles), the two black sheep compare medications, trade insults ("You have social problems," Pat observes) and instantly form a weird connection.
Lawrence is fierce and funny as Tiffany, a woman whose emotional wounds have scabbed over with anger; Cooper, in what feels like his acting debut (not counting those "Hangover" cakewalks), is appealing as a well-meaning wreck. Together, they create a wonderfully discombobulated chemistry that crackles even when the script turns sappy.
"Silver Linings Playbook" can feel overcrowded, but it's hard to complain about a cast that includes Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver ("Animal Kingdom") as Pat's flawed parents, John Ortiz as a miserable suburbanite and Chris Tucker as an upbeat nut case.
Somehow, this movie's flaws also are its assets, which may be exactly why it ends up such a winner.