Tuesday’s Reviews – Guardians of the Galaxy 2

Bradley Cooper, Chris Pratt, comic book, comic books, films, Marvel, reviews, Zoe Saldana

Last week I saw Guardians of the Galaxy 2 with a friend. Before I saw it I was filled with fear and doubt about how good it was. The trailers hadn’t really done much to suggest that Marvel were doing anything other than call-backs and in-jokes mixed with loads of shots of Baby Groot. I was sure it was going to be super fucking cringey and just ruin my love of the first one. I mean, Baby Groot is cute and all but I need something more than a CGI’d tiny tree to keep me happy, you know. So I was concerned but I loved the first film so much. It wasn’t perfect but, really, what Marvel movie is? We don’t love them because they’re flawless films; we love them because they’re awesome regardless. Anyway, this film boasts Kurt Russell as Ego and I’m not the kind of person who can happily walk away from that situation. Two powerhouses coming together in one place? Yes, please. Especially when accompanied by still buff Christ Pratt. Really, it didn’t matter if this film was good or bad as long as Star Lord was as easy one the eye as the first time.

Whilst Guardians of the Galaxy is now well-known as being part of the lighter side of the MCU, it’s important to remember that it opens with an incredibly emotional and dark moment. It opens with the very real and human sequence where young Peter Quill is faced with the death of his mother. It is something that soon gets lost in all the fun and quips but it hangs over Quill’s life and the film. It showed that, despite seeming like being nothing more than a jolly good time, Guardians was willing to deal with some deep shit. This is something that is also true of it’s sequel. Seriously, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to be walking in to but I definitely didn’t expect there to be quite so many feels.

But we’ll get there, Guardians of the Galaxy starts off as everyone wanted it to and proved that director James Gunn was still going to approach this in the same way he had the first one. We dive headfirst into an impending battle between out hapless heroes and a huge beast. Unexpectedly, however, we see the battle take place in the background as tiny Groot dances to ELO’s Mr Blue Sky. It’s a fabulous opening scene that had me grinning from ear to ear and caused all of my doubts to dissolve in the overriding sweetness on show. It’s a great opening scene and makes huge promises to the audience. Unfortunately, it can’t deliver on all of those promises.

Where Guardians 2 really flies is within Gunn’s dialogue and in the interaction between the group at its core. When the main 5, plus Yondu, get a chance to really shoot the breeze everything just feels right. There’s such a great chemistry on screen and Gunn has a wonderful sense of how the relationships should work. In an ideal world, this film would literally just have been a rambling film where the gang fly around space and banter with each other. However, films of this type generally require plots and action to keep an audience interested. So, thanks to a clunky plot device, we are quickly introduced to Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) estranged father, Ego (Kurt Russell). Turns out, Quill comes from very good genes as his immortal, planet God father is all too eager to tell him. Whilst Quill loves getting to know his only living family his team mates have bad feelings about this.

Gamora (Zoe Saldana) doesn’t trust the newly discovered father figure and as it turns out, she has good reason. When Ego showcases a desire for some doomsday level shenanigans, the gang must save Peter from falling under his spell. Before we get there, of course, there’s some other stuff with Rocket (Bradley Cooper) getting caught up in a coup on Yondu’s ship and a shit load of adoptive sisterly tension between Gamora and Nebula (Karen Gillan). Plus, plenty of times where Drax (Dave Bautista) is able to be fucking hilarious. After the super slick and fun opening sequence the rest of the film starts to run away with itself. Gunn always manages to reign it in but there is the inescapable feeling that everything is rushing towards the inevitable CGI filled climactic showdown. Really, it kind of seems that Gunn was so desperate to outdo himself that it ends up being a bit desperate and over-the-top. There’s just so much drama and action and it’s just not necessary. Then there are the endless pop culture references that, whilst fresh in the first one, just seem relentless now. It feels like all those YA post-apocalyptic books that reference 80s music to hide the fact that the author doesn’t have the creativity to build a fleshed out post-apocalyptic world. Missing something in your narrative? Just reference a classic sitcom or song. It feels like Gunn’s constant referencing is just an attempt to paper over some cracks.

This isn’t a bad film, though and, even in it’s dodgier moments, always maintains that sense of fun and heart. There are some fantastic scenes and the expansion of Michael Rooker’s Yondu is a fabulous edition. It was a surprising turn of events that this film ended up having one of the most emotionally fraugh ending of any film I’ve seen recently. More than any film in the MCU so far, Guardians 2 has some fucking hard consequences… and it’s brilliant. The sequel may not be quite as good, clever, or original as the first film but it’s still well-worth a look. I mean it was never going to reach the heady heights of the first one because that was such a shock. We knew what to expect here and it delivered exactly that, which was, in a way, its undoing. It’s the awful irony of success I suppose.

Despite everything I really loved this film and was super happy with how Gunn and co did in creating a sequel. It was funny, exciting and visually interesting. The main 5 are getting better and better together and I look forward to future films. I just hope they reign themselves in a bit. Both in terms of the actual film and the post-credits scenes. I mean fucking 5 clips? This whole Marvel tease is getting out of control. Although, it would be fine if they were fulfilling clips but most of them add nothing. I guess one was funny but most just felt unnecessary. A brief tease to a future character, a glimpse to appease comic book fans and a teenage Groot moment that just fell flat. Guardians 2‘s greatest sin was putting the final nail in the coffin of the post-credit bonus clip. Marvel, it’s time to stop this nonsense now. Thanks.

Tuesday’s Reviews – Joy (2015)

Bradley Cooper, film, Jennifer Lawrence, meh, review, Robert DeNiro

I still can’t work out what I feel about Jennifer Lawrence. On the one hand, she seems super cool and down-to-earth and I want to be her friend. On the other, she seems really irritating in a “trying to seem to cool and down-to-earth” kind of way. Of course that’s probably just down to how cynical and bitchy I am. Lawrence is a formidable talent and has brought great things to even the shittest productions. I’d probably be willing to watch anything if she had a key role and, it just so happens that I just have. If nothing else, Joy has been a gift to film critics. The title gives plenty of potential for witty quips about being or not being filled with joy as the credits roll. Very fucking clever guys. It means reading reviews gets kind of repetitive so I’ll try not to fall into the same old trap.

When it comes down to it, I still don’t think I’m a fan of David O. Russell’s films. There’s something about his style that I just can’t quite get on board with. I can’t say I had a great deal of praise for either American Hustle or Silver Linings Playbook. As far as I could see if it hadn’t been for J Law then neither would have had an awful lot going for them. O. Russell is the kind of director who likes to make real life a bit quirkier and comic but without risking stepping into Wes Anderson territory.

Joy is based on the true story of businesswoman Joy Mangano (J Law), a single mother who found success selling her uniquely designed mop. I say based on because O. Russell has played with Annie Mumolo’s original script to make the story more interesting. The simple examination of the realities of the American Dream told from the perspective of a desperate young woman wasn’t enough for the director. He changed aspects of Mangano’s story and added the unnecessary and undeveloped framing narrative of a trashy soap opera. The soap opera is watched by Joy’s mother (Virginia Madsen) who, following her divorce, has shut herself in her room and spends her days in bed watching television. The characters on screen are supposed to mirror the people in Joy’s life but it’s a device that never really gets off the ground. It’s picked up when O. Russell an be bothered and then dropped when there’s other shit to talk about. It’s just another step too quirky.

That’s not to say that Joy fails on all counts. O. Russell’s decision to compare Joy’s position as matriarch to that of a mob boss is an interesting concept and the parallels work well on screen. However, this, as with a lot of O. Russell’s directorial decisions, adds very little to the narrative and are clumsily linked together. There are a number of subplots that just sort of happen whilst the main narrative is going on: adding nothing more than what feels like days to the running time. The main story should have been enough for O. Russell to work with: Joy, a young mother, is left fighting to keep her family afloat. Growing up as a creative child, she had to put her desires on hold to care for her divorced parents and the ex-husband (Édgar Ramírez) who is living in her basement. After a fairly ordinary accident Joy comes up with her idea for a self-wringing mop and immediately starts drawing up crude plans in crayon. Thanks to a contact of her ex, Joy in introduced to QVC executive Neil Walker (Bradley Cooper) and is able to sell her product on the growing network.

Of course, things are never straight forward and Joy has to deal with several bumps in the road before she finally manages to find the success she so desires. Still, it gives Jennifer Lawrence a lot to work with and it’s easy to see why she’s making a name for herself this awards season. Lawrence is a fucking great actress and is by far and away the best thing about the film. It’s also the greatest of Lawrence’s O. Russell performances to date. She plays worn-down Joy with an overall dignity, sense of hope and determination that fights against the chaos that is ensuing around her.

Those surrounding her are a hit-and-miss bunch of supporting characters. Robert DeNiro is back with O. Russell and co to play another intense father though DeNiro is happily more nuanced here than he was in Silver Linings Playbook. The actor proves he still has a great deal to offer if he were offered something worth his talents. Bradley Cooper likewise returns and, whilst I’m still not convince he’s much more than a pretty face, shows that he can do calm and business like as Walker. Although, given that he isn’t actually given a lot to do, it’s not the kind of evidence that would hold up to much scrutiny. The rest of the cast all add something to the narrative but have fuck all chances to develop. Any attempt to flesh these characters out is forgotten once the story starts to pick up pace. This might be in-keeping with O. Russell’s plan to mirror the people of the fictional soap opera but it never quite lands. Instead we have a bunch of random people who just flounder on screen whilst J Law is kicking ass.

Joy is by no means a terrible film. I probably disliked it less than Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. However, it could have been a great deal better than it was. It’s certainly elevated by Jennifer Lawrence’s performance but more work was needed to really give do this story justice. O. Russell once again gets distracted playing with genre and manufacturing moments of dark comedy to really give a shit about the American Dream. It’s not a streamlined affair and there were moments when I was willing the inevitable ending to arrive. So I guess you could say I wasn’t exactly jumping for joy… oh fuck.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Bradley Cooper, comedy, comic book, Marvel, review, sci-fi, Zoe Saldana

It was back in 2010 that Marvel started making public suggestions about a Guardians of the Galaxy film. I have to admit that I didn’t really pay any attention to it. My limited knowledge of the comic book world had let me down again so I had very little knowledge of this part of the Marvel universe. With every new piece of information my eyes rolled with increasing exaggeration: chubby yet adorable Chris Pratt as a Hans Solo type? Karen Gillan? Bradley Cooper? Vin Diesel? Certainly nothing that really left me inspired enough to pick up a comic book. That was until the first teaser trailer was released… and I was fucking hooked. I bought some of the comics, found out as much as possible and made weird high-pitched noises whenever I saw new pictures of the newly buff Pratt.

Before Marvel film started the ball rolling, I think it’s fair to say that Guardians of the Galaxy was fairly unknown outside of the comic book community. They certainly didn’t have the same cultural reach that Marvel’s other major players had. However, in an age of increasingly dark Nolan-wannabe films, these lovable, slightly pathetic weirdos are exactly who cinema audiences were waiting for.

 
Although it may not initially seem that way, as Guardians opens in a completely un-Marvel way: a young Peter Quill listens to his walkman whilst waiting outside a hospital room to say his final goodbye to his sick mother. It’s an unexpectedly deep and emotional start to a film about space-adventurers. It is an unexpected moment in a world where comic book movies are normally brash, CGI-filled displays of non-stop action. Of course, anyone out there worried that they’ll miss the brash, CGI-filled displays have nothing to worry about as, only seconds after a distraught Peter runs from the hospital, he is picked up by a fucking huge spaceship.
 
Cut to twenty odd years later and Quill (Chris Pratt) is now an intergalactic scavenger hired out to find exciting trinkets: think Indiana Jones meets Hans Solo. To say the general reaction to the news that Pratt would play the great Star-Lord was one of confusion, the actor excels in the role. Despite his new slim-line look, his adorable, everyman charm that made him such a hit as Andy Dwyer remains. Unlike a lot of comic book heroes, you walk out of Guardians still being able to tell yourself that, under different circumstances, you could be Star-Lord.
 
It is his seemingly simple mission to retrieve a mysterious metal orb that sets Quill’s crazy space-adventure in motion. The fact that it turns out to be nothing more than your run-of-the-mill space MacGuffin fails to put a dampener on proceedings mainly because it’s the perfect way to introduce Quill to his future pals. They include fluffy bounty-hunter Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper); his bodyguard Groot (Vin Diesel), a tree of very few words; Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), a tattooed warrior looking for revenge; and the beautiful assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana).
 
I have to say, the casting is fucking perfect. It is nice to see Saldana actually given the kind of role she deserves and not having to endure any gratuitous shots of her in tight leather. To the shock of pretty much everyone, Diesel is one of the major stand-outs and manages to bring a great deal of emotion and humour to his potentially wooden performance. In an equally shocking moment for me, Cooper successfully pulls-off the sassy fuzzball (with more than a little help from Sean Gunn who provided the motion-cap performance) and has a whale of a time verbally abusing those who underestimate Rocket. However, is ex-wrestler Bautista that provides some of the most memorable and hilarious moments as the unfortunately literal Drax. He is a joy to watch and Bautista has more than made up for the disappointment of Khal Drogo turning down the role.
 
This is a team that possesses all of the Avengers-style banter with their own touch of fucking badassery and teamwork. The moments when director James Gunn and Nicole Periman’s script really flies are in these early moments when the team is slowly coming together. Their initial escape plan from a supposedly secure prison is a mesmerising and enjoyably sequence. After the sedate opening, Gunn and Periman ramp up the tempo and keep everything moving: perhaps even too fast sometimes.
 
We are in new territory and there is a lot of information to get across in a short space of time. You’ll hear names, planets and concepts bandied around without really finding out about them. We are introduced to the Nova Corps, Xandar and Kree without every really knowing anything about them. It’s a fucking bombardment of new info and you’re always close to getting lost in the confusion.
 
The script itself is clever, witty and more self-aware than I’d have expected Marvel to be comfortable with. Guardians is well aware of what kind of film it is and makes sure that we never forget it. It has all the silliness of a Saturday morning cartoon, the style of those post-Star Wars B-movies and the budget of a Marvel Summer Blockbuster.
 
After all, Guardians is, underneath its unkempt exterior, is a typical Marvel output. We have the usual roster of big baddies who are set to get their hands on what the good guys have. Of course, in true Marvel style, these characters are hastily written and, frankly, absolute crap: think the dark elves in Thor 2 and the big twist in Iron Man 3. Seriously, Marvel villains ain’t what they used to be.
 
In Guardians we have the deadly Ronan (Lee Pace) who harbours a deep resentment for the people of the planet Xandar for some reason we never really find out about. Ronan the Accuser certainly looks the part and does get the luxury of a few scenes to showcase his villainy but, considering he is the Guardians’ main nemesis, he is incredibly thinly drawn. In an age where Loki is one of Marvel’s most popular characters, audiences have started to demand greater things from their evildoers.
 
Although, he is given far more consideration than Nebula (Karen Gillan). Now I’m not a fan of Karen Gillan and, based entirely on her work on Dr Who I should point out, think she is fairly shit. However, even the greatest actor would struggle to make anything of Nebula. The adopted sister of Gamora has unfathomable motivations and has an incredibly confusing relationship with both her sister and their father. Guardians didn’t need another mediocre villain when they could have spent more time fleshing out Ronan. Although, I have to say she looked fucking awesome.
 
With villains as lame as these it is only natural that the ultimate showdown is a bit of a letdown. The humour and relaxed attitude remains to the ends thanks to Star-Lord’s unique methods of distraction but, once again, it’s just very effects heavy and uninspiring. Anyone wanting to play Marvel film bingo would have an absolute field day. Despite all of the refreshing storytelling that preceded it, this is paint by numbers scriptwriting. Seriously Marvel, you don’t need to end every film with a massive ship falling to Earth: there are other ways to create drama.
 
Despite this, Guardians is still one of the best Marvel films out there. I’m not confident enough to say with any certainty that I think it’s better than The Avengers but, considering some of the material that the studio has released lately, it’s the fucking Citizen Kane of the comic book films. It possesses an unavoidable charm, humour, nostalgia and energy that is just missing from the more established franchises. It’s no wonder it’s a hit with audiences and, if it’s handled right, will prove to be one of their most successful franchises.
 
If the Guardians themselves aren’t the Marvel heroes we are used to then the film itself stands out from the crowd. Despite the massive budget and visual aesthetic that goes with it, Guardians has the suggestion of much artier projects. It goes to show that, with a bit more encouragement, the studio might still be willing to experiment with their material.

American Hustle (2013)

Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale, con, Jennifer Lawrence

I’m not entirely sure whether or not I like David O. Russell. The celebrated writer and director has garnered quite a reputation for himself over the past four years thanks to his award-winning films The Fighter(2010) and Silver Lining’s Playbook(2012). Regular readers will know that I wasn’t exactly wowed by Russell’s supposed reinvention of the rom-com but I couldn’t deny it was of a much greater calibre than the usual Nicholas Sparks adaptation. However, with the still questionable talents of Bradley Cooper in the lead role I could never completely get on board with it. Regardless, the cast list and costume department had got me suitably interested in American Hustle for me to get over my apprehension.

The phrase “some of this actually happened” flashes up on a pre-movie title card before David O. Russell’s, mostly fictitious, account of the FBI’s Abscam sting of the 70s and 80s really gets into gear. It is a desperate and fleeting attempt from the director to place his shaggy dog tale into some semblance of reality. Although some of the salient facts are there for us to see behind all of the wigs and cleavage: an FBI agent bringing a conman on board to investigate corrupt politicians using a fake Arab sheik and some dodgy deals.
After that pinch of truth has been sprinkled over the narrative Russell abandons this recipe for something a bit more experimental and goes off-kilter with his hustle movie. Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale), a petty con artist and the owner of a chain of dry cleaners, is forced by Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), an FBI agent keen to make a name for himself, to use his skills to assist in entrapping some big names; starting with the Mayor of Camden, Carmine Polito, (a very Elvis looking Jeremy Renner) who gets caught up in the mess whilst trying to reinvigorate New Jersey.
Richie sets up his operation after catching Irving in mid hustle whilst he and his partner, in both business and pleasure, Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams) attempt to con the undercover agent out of $5000. Sydney, an ex-stripper who has taken on the identity of a British aristocrat with banking connections, helps Irving dupe the desperate out of their money in return for imaginary loans. Irving is left to decide between helping the FBI and leaving his lover to face jail time. The couple must try and overcome this problem as well as the pesky issue of Irving’s unstable wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) and adopted son. Rosalyn threatens to not only ruin the pair’s happiness but also the careful planning of Richie’s operation.
If this all seems like a lot to take in then it’s because the story is ultimately secondary to Russell’s rag-tag bunch of characters. At a running time of 129 minutes, the film is about half an hour too long. There are entire scenes and plot-lines that add nothing but the opportunity for the actors to really ramp up the drama and emotion. There is a spectacular scene towards the end of the film when Lawrence spends a good few minutes cleaning her house whilst angrily joining in with ‘Live and Let Die’. It is a scene that critics the world over have highlighted, quite correctly, as evidence of her increasing skill but ultimately the whole scene just feels out of place.

Then we have the clutter of side-characters that have little effect on the plot and distract from the main points. Louis C.K. turns up as Richie’s disapproving boss but, after showing a great deal of promise, is completely wasted and sidelined. There is a moment when, in a fit of anger, Richie attacks his superior with a phone but this, like pretty much every complication that arises, ends up having no real consequences. There is a moment of confrontation but the incident of violence is shrugged off and forgotten about. You get the idea that, once the basic Abscam story was written down, Russel and co-writer Eric Warren Singer just stopped caring too much about what happened.

 American Hustle is a somewhat confused film that can’t quite decide what it’s trying to be. It is part con movie, part mob thriller, and part romantic-comedy, with lashings of Scorsese and hints of Boogie Nights and GoodFellas. Of course, this melting pot of genres would work well if any of the individual elements were well-crafted in their own right. As it happens, the con aspect spreads pretty thin over the whole, the mob threat ends up being fairly underwhelming, and the comedy mainly comes from a focus on crazy hair and even crazier characters.
For Russell, American Hustle is about the ensemble having fun in the era of 70s disco excess. An ensemble fronted, of course by, the larger than life Irving; a character who offers Christian Bale the chance to further remove himself from the role of Batman by digging his teeth into the unappealing conman. Bale embraces the character and does an incredible job slowly getting to the heart of the ruthless conman caught up in a world where appearance is everything. An idea only highlighter by the opening scene when Irving, with an impressive paunch, glues, combs and sprays bits of wig and hair into an incredibly intricate comb-over. We are dealing with a man, and a film, who is concerned not just with professional disguises but personal ones too.
Something his hustling partner turned lover Sydney knows all about. Amy Adams spends the majority of the film keeping up her faux British accent for Sydney’s alter ego Lady Edith. With every film role Adams continues to prove that she is one of the most accomplished and important actresses working at the moment. She brings a vulnerability to the tough exterior of the overwhelmed Sydney and she certainly pulls off the ridiculous costumes and hair of the time of disco. She is by far and away the stand-out character and performer in the entire film and continually outclasses the less accomplished members of the ensemble.
Unfortunately, one of those cast members happens to be the usually faultless Jennifer Lawrence who sort of loses her way as Irving’s unhinged young wife. It’s not that Lawrence is awful here but she has lost a great deal of the subtlety and care that made some of her best performances so great. After winning an academy award for the psychologically scarred Tiffany in Silver Linings Playbook, Lawrence amps up the crazy to almost unstoppable proportions. Perhaps, like the characters being portrayed, gets confused by the excesses of 1970s New York. Lawrence gives this her all and gives the same dramatic performance that has littered her fantastic career but there can be no denying that she is fairly far from her greatest performance. Of course, it doesn’t help that she is continually outclasses by the superb Adams.
Still there can be no denying that I am a massive fan of Lawrence no matter what she does and she definitely fared better than her Silver Linings Playbook co-star Bradley Cooper. Cooper isn’t exactly a subtle actor and is it pretty telling that the only two nominations he has received have come from him playing larger than life and mentally unstable characters. He charges into this operation in a desperate attempt to prove his worth and spends his time violently overreacting or suppressing exclamations of glee to be included in such an accomplished cast. He is distracting and horribly sticks out alongside his co-stars. I’m still yet to be convinced that Cooper can add anything to a film other than a face most people seem to enjoy.
American Hustle is hardly a terrible film but it certainly ends up delivering a lot less than it promises. Like its leading man, American Hustle is far too concerned with the outer appearance to really worry about what’s going on underneath. Perhaps a little less time sorting out its toupee and more time working on the narrative and Russell would have had an undeniable example of perfection. This film almost makes up for its flaws thanks to its unfailing energy, dazzling aesthetics and up-for-anything cast but the narrative is too undefined, meandering and fairly repetitive. The script is not as funny as it should be and the plot lacks the detailed focus that is required of a truly great conman film. No matter what I think of Russell as a whole, there can be no denying that this isn’t the high calibre that he is capable of when he is at his best.

Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

Bradley Cooper, dancing, Jennifer Lawrence, mental illness, review, Robert DeNiro
To quote Kate Winslet in the third episode of Ricky Gervais’ popular sitcom Extras, “you’re guaranteed an Oscar if you play a mental.” Bizarrely, in the case of Bradley Cooper in David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, that could very well be correct. For this isn’t your usual romantic-comedy. It’s about crazies so it’s got depth… supposedly.  For this film has been eaten up by critics and the Oscar voters alike as a refreshing and exciting new direction for the now incredibly stale genre. It is certainly the type of film that was bound to get plenty of attention during award season. I think we all have to be thankful that Russell’s follow-up to his Oscar nominated The Fighter wasn’t also set during World War 2 otherwise Cooper would be a certainty for the Academy Award for Best Actor. So it was in the midst of all this hype that audiences flocked to see two of Hollywood’s most bankable stars step into the quirky and thought-provoking world of mentally ill romantic-comedy. But could it live up to it?

Silver Linings Playbook follows the story of former teacher Pat who suffers a breakdown after he discovers his wife partaking in some afternoon delight with a colleague. We meet him after an eight month stint in psychiatric hospital where he was attempting to come to terms with bipolar disorder. Being removed from the facilities against the wishes of his doctors, he finds himself back in his childhood home with his mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver) and Pat Sr. (Robert DeNiro). He is keen to return to his old life and prove that he can stick to his new, positive outlook: to prove that he can find his ‘silver lining’.

Bradley Cooper cannot be described as the most subtle of actors but he brings a certain frenzied energy to some of Pat’s more manic episodes. All in all though his performance is pretty one-note. Pat is completely motivated by his delusional belief that he is cured and that proof of this will get his wife back. He is not the easiest character to root for and Cooper’s frantic, wide-eyed portrayal of a volatile man coming to terms with bipolar often becomes tedious and far too intense. It gets to the point when it almost doesn’t feel as if Pat’s bipolar is actually that big a deal. It just seems like it’s one of those silly little quirks that people have. Rather than being ill Pat simply has strong feelings about certain songs, is quick to anger and has an obsessive desire to look on the bright side. He doesn’t provide any real drama here and you can’t help but feel that he’d fit better in a Wes Anderson film than he does here.
Thankfully, to offset this, Pat and the audience are offered a certain amount of respite with the introduction of troubled widow Tiffany. Still coming to terms with the death of her husband, the young woman becomes fixated on Pat Jr. and orchestrates her way into get closer to him. She proposes a deal in which she gets messages to and from Pat’s wife (bypassing that pesky restraining) if he helps her take part in a charity dance competition. This premise all sounds rather silly and it often feels like Russell is trying a bit too hard to seem quirky and unusual. However, Jennifer Lawrence does remarkably well to bring us another incredible performance. She brings a depth and emotion to Tiffany that we never see anywhere in Cooper’s Pat. She may be close to him in terms of craziness but she definitely outclasses him on the sympathetic scale. You want Tiffany to succeed much more than you ever want Pat to. Lawrence also does a great job when interacting with the other cast and there are several moments, during which Tiffany attempts to out-crazy the two Pats, which are simply splendid. In fact, the big showdown between DeNiro and Lawrence is one of the stand-out moments of the whole show.
As with so many films of this type the best moments occur in the first 30 minutes or so. This is thanks to the comic potential garnered from Pat’s transition from hospital to the big wide world. There is a great deal of glee to be had in his ruthless honesty and the discomfort it creates for everyone else. Even Cooper’s bull-in-a-china-shop style performance provides some great moments, such as his sudden insistence that he must work his way through his estranged wife’s literature syllabus before deeming it to be full of damaging messages about life. However, the narrative quickly changes pace when Tiffany is introduced and it becomes painfully clear what is about to happen. We move into obvious and stereotypical romantic-comedy territory with everyone’s future happiness becoming linked to the outcome of a football game and the dance competition. The unusual premise that had a great deal of potential quickly descends into something quite forgettable and frustratingly usual. This film doesn’t reinvent the genre, as so many critics would have you believe, it simply adds some mentally unstable characters into a narrative that even the laziest rom-com writers would reject.
Anyway, being surrounded by this many neurotic and eccentric characters, even Pat and Tiffany don’t really seem that outrageous. The supporting cast itself is fairly hit and miss with both DeNiro and Weaver doing the best they can with the material that is being offered to them. DeNiro in particular does a fine job considering he flits between an emotional father trying to reconnect with his son and a farcical version of a man suffering from OCD and a dependency on sporting superstition. The more sentimental moments between the two Pats show that DeNiro still has a great deal to offer but Pat Sr.’s more exaggerated moments played out for comic gain become fairly tiresome. Another brief shining light comes in the form of Chris Tucker’s (I know it confused me too) Danny, Pat’s friend from the hospital. Danny isn’t really important to the plot so he is simply played for comic effect.
I can’t say that I didn’t like this film but, like Black Sawn, it credits itself with more intelligence than it actually possesses. It offers a great deal that it simply never lives up to. You cannot create a new and interesting perspective on this genre by just adding characters suffering from different mental illnesses into a completely bland situation. If these characters had no psychiatric problems this film would have been brushed off as a pathetic affair but, as it stands, all Hollywood needs is a bit of bipolar and OCD to create a masterpiece. We are being lead to believe this is One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest meets When Harry Met Sally but the actual results is as corny, contrived and over-sentimental as even the worst Jennifer Aniston rom-com. If it wins any of the many awards it has been nominated for it just goes to show Hollywood is as shallow and predictable as Ricky Gervais accuses it of being.