Ah, the holiday season. It's the only time of year when movies with bipolar protagonists briefly seem like a perfectly good idea. Silver Linings Playbook initially presents itself as an edgy, insightful and indie-spirited film about severely damaged people desperately seeking respite for their battered souls. But it reveals its true colors in its last 20 minutes, when the movie suddenly and inexplicably transforms into the season's most conventional romantic comedy.
Pat (Bradley Cooper) has been released from a state institution after beating his wife's lover to a pulp, and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) recently got fired after sleeping with everyone in her office in the wake of her husband's death. Will they wind up in each other's arms despite their erratic behavior and the invisible obstacles that somehow keep them apart? Director David O. Russell delivered the occasional early masterwork (see 1999's Three Kings), but can't find a steady tone to pull this movie together. The oddest thing about Silver Linings Playbook is that it gets better as it goes along. That may be more a function of its initial extreme unpleasantness than any righting of a wayward ship. Lawrence (The Hunger Games) nearly saves the day with a surprisingly subtle performance. If only her character had been surrounded by a more convincing film. — KEN KORMAN