Perhaps most important, Russell doesn't shy from the absurd humor mental illness can sometimes entail; nor does he make it look cute. Rather, "Silver Linings Playbook" invites viewers to consider whether we all don't exist on some kind of spectrum, where the difference between a quirk and a symptom can be notional at best.
The tonal balancing act he pulls off is helped enormously by actors who never overplay or try too hard to be liked: De Niro delivers his warmest, most astute performance in years, and both Cooper and Lawrence successfully shed their movie-star glamour to play a couple of self-sabotaging misfits in search of a decent coping strategy.
From the moment they meet and compare medication history, Pat and Tiffany settle into a staccato, argumentative rhythm, with Tiffany bringing particular bite to their encounters (she has an utterly beguiling way of spitting when he does, after ambushing him during his daily jogging sessions). The tart, brutally frank chemistry that fuels "Silver Linings Playbook" plays out in the film's visual approach, which eschews air-brushed Hollywood aesthetics for a far more jagged, intimate imperfection.
Still, Russell doesn't deprive the audience of old-fashioned pleasures, including that rousing show-stopper toward the end. Would that every feel-good movie came by its good feelings so honestly.
R. Contains language and some sexual content and nudity. 117 minutes.