For a good hour or so, Russell’s movie is intriguing because you can’t quite figure out where it’s going – tragedy? Farce? The lead character is less than appealing on many occasions, and it seems that he could be a threat to himself or others. Cooper generally plays a ladies’ man, and with excellent reason, but here Russell does his best to keep him from being too cuddly.

Cooper, who is not a great actor but pulls off this showy role well enough to inspire discussion about a possible Oscar consideration, appears with a strange scar across his nose (sustained, he claims, in “a weight-lifting accident”), his hair closely shorn, his beard scraggly. He is frequently clad in a garbage bag (which he wears while jogging, to lose weight). He’s a woeful figure who could at any moment find himself being dragged back to the mental hospital, from which a similarly situated friend (amusingly played by a startling Chris Tucker, who has been away for a while and looks it) keeps running away.

But the contrivances start to pile up in the less nerve-wracking, somewhat saccharine second half. In order to set up a big, Little Miss Sunshine-style ending, Tiffany demands that Pat take up intensive dance training with her so she can compete in a ballroom competition around Christmas. If only Pat and Tiffany can do well in the dance contest, all will be well and Pat’s dad (who has lost a ton of money on football) will be solvent again.

Doesn’t that all sound a little too…Pat? Yes, but then again, mental illness is enough of a drag. There’s no need to be depressing about it onscreen, and the dance scenes do have spark, thanks mainly to the considerable charms of Lawrence, the glamorous Hunger Games star who also got a Best Actress nomination for playing a hillbilly in Winter’s Bone. It’s a little unfortunate that her character turns so abruptly from dark and weird to sentimental and needy, but that’s Hollywood.

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Shutterstock image courtesy Gorgev

More current movie reviews from John Boot at PJ Lifestyle:

Argo: It’s Time to Take Ben Affleck Seriously as a Director

Time-Travel Thriller Looper Should Make Its Director a Hollywood Player

Spielberg’s Boring Lincoln Like Cramming for the Oscar Final