Following a mis-step apiece, Bradley Cooper (Hit & Miss) and Jennifer Lawrence (House At The End Of The Street) regain their footing on Mt Impressive in just the sort of rom-com you’d expect from a director who once came to blows with George Clooney.
Based on the bittersweet novel by Matthew Quick, it begins with Cooper’s former teacher Pat being signed out of the state asylum by his mum (Jacki Weaver) after being locked up for attacking his wife’s lover.
A bipolar firework with a short fuse, it doesn’t take much to set Pat off, whether it’s the ending of Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell To Arms or the song ‘Ma Cherie Amour’ by Stevie Wonder. Hence the restraining order and the medication.
As a concerned father, Pat Sr (De Niro) obviously wants to help. But as a Philadelphia Eagles nut who dismisses his own OCD behaviour as harmless superstition, he’s perhaps not the best person to offer mental health advice, let alone pursue a new career as a bookie.
While seeking to get his life - and marriage - back on track through therapy, exercise and positive thinking, Pat is introduced to the equally troubled and angry Tiffany (Lawrence).
Since her cop husband died, Tiffany’s attempts to fill the void with casual sex have merely gained her a reputation and lost her a job.
Kindred and crazy, the pair break the ice with a little brutal honesty before gradually cementing their bond through jogging, mutual antagonism and, ultimately, freestyle dancing.
The deal is that if he partners her in an upcoming competition, she will ensure his wife gets the letter that he thinks will win her back.
Which makes it all sound like what might happen if Harry met Sally in the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Pleasingly, there’s more to it than that - at least in the first act during which the admirably intense Cooper and Lawrence build a credible, platonic relationship with no sop to cuteness.
Indeed, the initial warmth comes from the amusingly beige pairing of De Niro and Weaver, though Julia Stiles and John Ortiz show fewer signs of marital bliss as Tiffany’s sister and her henpecked hubby.
Anupam Kher (the dad from Bend It Like Beckham) also provides enjoyable support as Pat's wise shrink while even Chris Tucker manages not to irritate as Pat’s pal from the nuthouse.
It's slightly sad to see Stiles on the sidelines when not so long ago she would have been a shoo-in for the lead role. But it’s also somehow apt in a film that illustrates the fickleness of fate and how quickly life moves on.
And if the spikiness ebbs away as Russell heads into conventional rom-com territory, it’s all done with strictly feelgood intentions.
For people who wouldn’t normally go near a date movie without dosing up on lithium, this is one playbook that delivers what it says on the cover.