I became aware of this film’s existance during the trailers before another movie. Unusually during that sitting, this trailer didn’t stink. It did, in its selection of scenes, spoil the impact of them in the film as a whole but, without them, I might not have bothered to make an effort to watch it, so I am, overall, grateful.
This is a romcom, sort of, with a social message, sort of. Both it’s leads suffer from mental illness, as do at least two other very major characters, and the relationships turn around these issues, and yet it doesn’t feel like an “issue-driven” movie, or preachy, nor are they cheaply exploited, although there are laughs in there. As the film begins Pat (Bradley Cooper) is taken out of hospital by his mother, Dolores (Jackie Weaver), against the doctors’ advice. It transpires that his 8-month incarceration was the condition of a plea-bargain with a court, following a serious assault of his wife’s lover after discovering them in flagrante. Pat seems unable to accept the depth of his, previously undiagnosed, bipolar mental illness issues. Nor does he seem aware of the depth of other people’s discomfort and fear of him. Having used his time to get physically fit, and with the ability to control his bipolar episodes most of the time (despite refusing to take his meds), Pat is determined to look for ‘the silver lining’ and win back his wife.
Invited to a meal by a friend, Ronnie (John Ortiz), he is introduced to Ronnie’s sister-in-law, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence, rapidly establishing herself as a truly remarkable actor), also with her own mental health issues, having recently lost her husband in a violent incident and having lost her job as a result of her (ahem!) inappropriate behaviour at work subsequently. The discussion between Pat and Tiffany, comparing medications, is funny and a little disturbing, particularly for the others present, and it’s where they first ‘click’. We know, despite Pat’s utter conviction that he is going to win his wife back, that this is the romantic couple the film is going to follow. When Tiffany blackmails Pat into entering a dance competition with her, by promising to deliver a letter to his wife, a romantic entanglement of some kind becomes utterly inevitable, but will it end well?
Pat’s own mental problems are not the only ones he has to deal with, nor is it just Tiffany’s he has to add to his own, because his father, Pat Snr (Robert de Niro) also demonstrates mental health problems, in the shape of irrational and obsessive behaviour about his beloved Philadelphia Eagles, for whom he used to scout and from whose property he is banned, also for some unspecified violence. We are invited to wonder if Pat’s is an inherited condition, but it adds more than a cod-diagnosis, as it complicates the ‘blame game’; when looking at how Pat’s parents try to cope with having him in their house (his estranged wife having sold theirs and moved on), the difficulties go more than one way.
There are a couple of scenes in which we get to see just how difficult it could be in treating Pat as a ‘regular guy’ – he doesn’t always react in ways that you would predict or find easy to cope with. Despite all this, in many ways, this is a standard by-the-numbers romantic comedy but the realistic portrayal of Pat, Tiffany and Pat Senior as rounded characters, as well as being people trying to cope with their medical issues, elevates this above much of the standard fare, and the chemistry between the leads is (for me) fully engaging.