Infidelity, marital breakdown, criminal assault, mental illness. These are topics of high drama; there's nothing amusing about them. Except that "Silver Linings Playbook" deals with every one -- and it is one of the funniest films of the year.

It shouldn't come as such a surprise. Some of the most droll satirists are also some of the most pensive. Director David O. Russell's seriously quirky sense of humor has finally found its match, in the Matthew Quick novel on which this film is based.

The film opens in an institution. Pat (Bradley Cooper) is on the telephone. "I'm better now. I hope you're better now," he says in a conversation, insistent about "true love." We soon get the story behind the call and the place from which it's made. Pat caught wife Nikki with another man. Pat did what many men would want to do: beat the guy to a pulp. But in almost killing him, Pat finds himself charged with a serious crime. A plea bargain puts Pat in a mental hospital for eight months.

On screen
'Silver Linings Playbook'
3.5 out of 4 stars
Stars: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro
Director: David O. Russell
Rated: R for language and some sexual content/nudity
Running time: 122 minutes

When the film opens, his mother (Jacki Weaver) arrives to spring him. When they get to Philadelphia, it's clear the homecoming is a surprise for father Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro). When his wife says quickly, "The court says it's fine," we sense that Pat hasn't completely healed yet. That and the fact that Pat focuses his time on "getting in shape for Nikki."

Pat also wants to get his mind in order, but not in the way his therapist hopes. He makes his way through Nikki's syllabus for the high school class she teaches. He doesn't find books much of a comfort, though.

Pat doesn't understand that he's still a little crazy, which becomes obvious when he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). She's the sister of his best friend's wife, and Pat is immediately put off by her interest in sleeping with him: He's saving himself for Nikki. But they soon bond over psychopharmaceuticals, and Tiffany makes him an offer he can't refuse: She'll give Nikki a letter from Pat, which his restraining order stops him from doing himself, if he agrees to replace her late husband in an amateur dance competition.

It's a ludicrous plot, perhaps, but it does what it needs to: make these two terribly flawed, terribly interesting people get to know each other, and allow us to get to know them and root for some kind of connection to take place.

Lawrence, so good in "Winter's Bone," comes as a revelation. She and Cooper might seem an odd match -- but so did everything about this special film that shows Hollywood still has the ability to surprise.