Silver-Linings-PlaybookJust as Kate Winslet claimed in Extras that doing a Holocaust movie means you’re “guaranteed” an Oscar, portraying a mentally ill character usually merits an Oscar nomination at least. There’s Natalie Portman’s Black Swan, Nicole Kidman’s prosthetic-nosed take on Virginia Woolf in The Hours, Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, Tugg Speedman in Simple Jack… scratch that last one.

And with the powerful backing of The Weinstein Company, you can expect Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence to feature prominently in next year’s nominations after full-blooded turns in David O Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook. They’ll certainly deserve it.

Adapted from Matthew Quick’s novel, Silver Linings… introduces us to Pat Solitano, (Cooper), a former teacher who’s completed eight months in a mental institution due to a plea bargain after a violent episode that cost him his job, his home and his wife. Determined to “take all this negativity, and use it as fuel, and find a silver lining”, Pat looks to rebuild his life. He works out and reads in a bid to win his wife back, while reconnecting with his optimistic mother (Jacki Weaver) and awkwardly affectionate father (Robert De Niro).

When Pat meets Tiffany (Lawrence) – a young girl whose own mental collapse manifested itself in “sleeping with everyone in the office” after her husband’s death – the two bond over antidepressants and poor social skills, and Tiff agrees to help Pat win his wife back, if he’ll help her in return…

This is a bruising, surprisingly touching and frequently funny bulldozer of a film. Cooper and Lawrence are tremendous, the former manic, dry and vulnerable, and showing far more range than his previous career choices had suggested. Lawrence, meanwhile, is goofy, sexy and captivatingly volatile, confirming she’s the finest actress of her generation.

Whether Russell will pick up any best director gongs or the film merit a best picture nod is another matter entirely, however.

He inserts some subtle telegraphs – a framed picture that’s slipped from a wall, a seemingly subliminal recording of My Cherie Amour, an envelope on a staircase  – and his close, jerky camerawork, coupled with a dreamy sound mix, smartly conveys the shifting mental states of our leads, and the ‘cloudiness’ of over-medicating. Yet for a director so famed for his, shall we say, unusual working methods (check out his onset rant at Lily Tomlin during the making of I Heart Huckabees, or George Clooney’s fight with the filmmaker while shooting Three Kings), Silver Linings Playbook remains a surprisingly conventional film.

There’s an unconventional friendship that blossoms into a romance. A father and son only able to bond over watching American Football (the sport plays a key role in the narrative, but is oddly never shown). And a climactic dance contest that feels transported in from another film and handily allows for a visual representation of the growing bond between Pat and Tiffany while also tying together the rest of the plot.

As explosive as the film attempts to be – and at times, with all the shouting and acting with a capital A on screen, it feels like being trapped in a living room while your family argue for two hours – there’s few surprises in store. From the moment Pat and Tiff meet, however deluded he seems about the chances of saving his marriage, the play Russell has called is clear. He’s scored the touchdown with the warmth and humour of the story, and the brilliance of his cast (it’s been so long since you could use that word in conjunction with De Niro), but rather than going for the possibility of an extra point and taking some narrative risks, Russell plays it safe and takes the easy conversion kick of crowd-pleasing accessibility.

Still, the magnetism of our lead pair, whose snappy back-and-forths drive the film in its slower moments, means that even though The Silver Linings Playbook rarely reveals any tactics we’ve not seen before, we’re willing it towards a win all the same.