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Cooper delivers most compelling work yet

 Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper star as people working through troubling issues in 'Silver Linings Playbook.'
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Date published: 11/20/2012



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.

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 ("The Fighter") film takes off. 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 Tiffany takes assures us that's a much tighter race than you'd expect.

Pat has these little mantras he picked up from group therapy and psychological counseling.

"If you stay positive, you have a shot at a silver lining." That's what he's seeking.

Tiffany? Her volatility is frightening.

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

DIRECTOR: Directed by David O. Russell.

RATED: R (language and some sexual content/nudity)

THEATERS: Paragon Village 12