Comedy flirts with dark side of mental illness

MENTAL illness in film is usually of the serious kind; characters without a grip on their complete sense of self are the ones that need help and find it hard to come by as they face day-to-day life.

It's a common part of life that has at least an indirect effect on most people, but to put it with comedy is rare. No doubt the likeability of difference against other films on the subject is something the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voters have taken note of.

Bipolar disorder is a wide-reaching mental illness and the drive behind Matthew Quick's novel.

David O Russell acts as director and screenwriter in the adaptation where Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) is released from a mental health institution to his happy parents Dolores (Jacki Weaver) and Pat snr (Robert De Niro). It's been a long eight months where he hasn't played by all the rules, but he's home.

As the reasons behind his time become known, Pat is shown as a straight shooter on top of his ability to bluff his way through a lot of situations.

He very much knows what is wrong with his situation and believes he has the willpower to push past it and succeed. However, his prolonged refusal to take medication is reflective of the views of many mental illness sufferers who feel stifled by taking it.

Pat meets one of those by chance. Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) is a mess, retreating to defensive conversation and other antisocial behaviour in the time following her husband's death. But a mutual attraction from the two sparks an unlikely friendship centred on looking out for their own wellbeing.

It's the opposite to most boy-girl stories in that sense, rejecting the notion of devoting yourself to someone else. There is no love lost between Pat and Tiffany as they try to find their silver lining through a warped understanding of each other and the neighbourhood they find themselves in.

The people Pat and Tiffany are surrounded by add to the story. Pat snr is a bookmaker convinced his son's return home has sparked a Philadelphia Eagles winning streak in the NFL; his friend Randy (Paul Herman) the dodgy friend always looking for the better bet.

Then there's Danny (Chris Tucker), Pat's friend from the institution with his misguided positivity.

It's a man's world, spearheaded by the inclusion of an NFL rivalry sub-plot. The film feels very North American as a result, their pride for gridiron unlike those from any other sport's fans, but Tiffany taps into that zone and brings it to its knees in a pivotal moment.

The screenplay displays the shouting ability of most of the cast as much of the story centres around arguments. Pat, Tiffany and those around them are fraught with confusion as they are all forced to consider what defines importance and happiness. Russell's cast is excellent, Jennifer Lawrence mesmerising as a very troubled young lady.

Russell, an executive producer on Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, injects potentially flirtatious moments with deadpan sarcasm. It's less risky than what it should seem, and the effect is paramount as laughs that should feel awkward don't.

This latest award season favourite mixes the young and old in presenting some of the best performers Hollywood has to offer.

Rating: 4/5

Now screening in Reading Cinemas

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