AS SOMEONE who's skeptical of silver linings being an actual thing, so too was I skeptical of Silver Linings Playbook, the would-be feel-good holiday release from I Heart Huckabees director David O. Russell. Midway through the trailer, I half expected a voiceover to proclaim it was "from the producers of The Blind Side of the Help."

Philly native Pat (Bradley Cooper) has been cooling his jets in an asylum for eight months. Newly freed, he moves back in with his loving mom (Jacki Weaver) and doubting dad (Robert De Niro) and, against judge and doctor's orders, sets out to win back his ex-wife by showing how fit he's gotten in the loony bin. Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence)—a fellow neighborhood pariah who, following the death of her police officer husband, has indulged her pain through wanton sex—complicates Pat's plan for redemption. She sees a kindred crazy in Pat, and she promises to help contact his wife if he'll be her partner in a dance competition.

The path of this thing seems obvious, but the film's romance sneaks up on you: Russell disguises his love story by shooting Silver Linings Playbook with the same visceral immediacy he brought to The Fighter, cloaking the courtship in the manic energy of mental disorders. Bradley Cooper comes at the screen with a rapid-fire attack of paranoia and delusion, and I was too on edge to ever really root for him and Lawrence to get together. It doesn't help that she's so cagey—a Katniss Everdeen of love, dodging emotional hungers to indulge in games of a whole other kind.

And then, before you know it, you're somehow invested in these two, and somehow in love with them as much as they love each other. And then it's too late to stop the waterworks.