If this is the new suburban America, it’s a very worrying place. Everybody seems to think that everyone else has something wrong with them. Bradley Cooper has been in a psychiatric hospital for beating up his wife’s lover, and the girl he meets-cute with is on meds because she slept with people in her office. This isn’t aberrant behaviour, it’s the Mediterranean. Get over it all of you, and relax.
Bradley’s father, Robert De Niro, neatly lines up his TV remotes, so apparently that makes him OCD. In my book, he’s just tidy. Bradley has been released back into his family’s care – he’s, like, mid-thirties and he needs their care? Jennifer Lawrence isn’t mad, her husband got killed and she sleeps around to forget him, which strikes me as pretty normal behaviour. But no, here everyone with a problem either has to be locked away – Brad’s pal Chris Tucker seems to have been locked up just for talking quickly – or treated with kid gloves. A kindly local copy tries to keep Brad out of the poky, but offers to sleep with Lawrence. My viewing companion turned to me at one point and said; ‘I have no points of reference at all with these people.’
So, Bradley thinks he can get back with his wife, Lawrence thinks she’ll get Brad, De Niro thinks he’ll win a football bet and save his plans for a restaurant, and the superb Jacki Weaver, the family’s long-suffering matriarch, remains sane although God knows she’s earned the right to start behaving badly. Everybody shouts all the time about everything – it’s like an updated, medicated Woody Allen film. Except it’s not. Because just as the leads get a little less annoying, the film reveals its true colours and morphs into ‘Strictly Ballroom’.
Lawrence wants to score in a dance contest, and De Niro’s fortunes become ties to the outcome in the kind of plot twist only rom-com writers ever come up with. So Bradley and Lawrence prepare their routine, unaware that his wife will be in the audience. You can fill in the rest.
I don’t like rom-coms. (Not entirely true – I loved ‘Prelude To A Kiss’, made before Meg Ryan went mad and messed up her face). But how many cute ways can you get couples to date? The problem with this very nicely directed (David O Russell) love story is that the spikiness falls away after the first twenty minutes, leaving us with a treacly climactic musical mash-up and a leap into a lover’s arms. But perhaps there was only so much boorish behaviour we could take from Bradley Cooper before walking out.
Good points; a late career best from De Niro, and a well-used setting of what, lower-middle class? Working class? families who may live in detached houses but aren’t far removed from Damon Runyon’s bookies. Plenty of sharp, overlapping dialogue, but the enterprise is straitjacketed by the genre’s need to provide an unequivocal happy ending.