On Silver Linings Playbook

Image retrieved from imdb.com

If you haven’t had an opportunity to jump on the Silver Linings Playbook bandwagon yet, do yourself a favor and treat yourself to a viewing of this film, released on DVD today. I was fortunate enough to hear about the movie well before its release from a friend who was actually an extra in a few scenes. But all that Marc, my burgeoning actor friend, really told me about the movie was that it would probably be up for Oscar contention, it dealt with mental illness, and it was based on a novel. (He also mentioned that Bradley Cooper was an extremely generous and down to earth person, at least as could be gauged from their few brief exchanges.) I knew back then that I’d see Silver Linings in the theater, if only because that’s one of me and my husband’s favorite activities and also because I personally knew someone whose face I could spot on the big screen.

But when we saw the very first trailer for the movie, my husband Mike rolled his eyes and said he had very low expectations of and little interest in the movie. After all, the preview we watched featured lots of dancing and gave little else away regarding the plot of the film. I really couldn’t blame Mike for his harsh opinion, but luckily he changed his tune when the next trailer was released. I’m not sure they ever really figured out how to market Silver Linings Playbook – it’s not quite a romantic comedy, not purely a drama, and could appeal to  multiple audiences despite (or maybe by virtue of) the fact that bi-polar disorder, football, and ballroom dancing all feature prominently in the film. By the time the second theatrical trailer came out, Silver Linings looked far more palatable than before and we eagerly awaited its release.

Based in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Silver Linings Playbook begins at the mental institution in Baltimore where Pat Solitano, played by Bradley Cooper, has been court ordered to spend the prior few months. With approval from the courts, his mother, portrayed by Jacki Weaver, unexpectedly removes Pat from the institution early and brings him home to live with her and his father Pat Sr., played by Robert De Niro. Despite Pat Jr.’s many flaws and mistakes, including a violent episode which resulted in his institutionalization, his long-undiagnosed bipolar disorder, and his laughably poor social skills in general, Cooper is a surprisingly likable protagonist, a fact made even more remarkable given how honest and raw his portrayal of bipolar disorder is. Part of the audience’s fondness for Pat stems from that honesty but also from a sense of sympathy – his violent outburst was triggered by the discovery of his wife with her lover. Though few people would react to the same violent extent as Pat, many could certainly relate to the depth with which he felt his wife’s betrayal.

Upon returning to Philly, Pat draws upon many of the teachings he picked up in the hospital, working on his physical health and harnessing positivity whenever possible in order to get better. Pat’s firm belief that achieving health and happiness will win his wife back is obviously misguided (especially since she still has a restraining order against him), but the long term goal of repairing his marriage is the ultimate motivation for him. His struggle to get well sets up situations both comedic and uncomfortable, laughable in their outrageousness while painful for those involved.

As he travels the path to wellness, Pat meets Tiffany, a young widower who knows Pat’s ex-wife. The two bond over their broken marriages, psychiatric cocktails, and general inability to fit within the confines of the outside world’s expectations. Tiffany, played by Jennifer Lawrence, sets up a bargain with Pat which brings the whole dancing storyline into play – she promises to deliver letters to his ex-wife if he will compete in a dancing competition with her for which she has no viable partner. Their relationship appears volatile on the surface, but Tiffany and Pat understand one another far better than anyone else in the film and inadvertently help each other to heal.

Also volatile is the relationship between Pat Junior and Senior. Pat Sr is a bookie with an indisputable bout of untreated OCD. He staunchly believes that his son’s presence will assure the victory of his beloved Philadelphia Eagles on game day. Though the elder Pat hates to admit it, his mental health is not as stable as he thinks – in fact, it is probably less so than that of his son. The course of the film sees them figure out how alike they really are and how to exist together in peace.

I recently watched the film for a second go round and appreciated it even more so than my initial viewing. The characters in this film are, on paper, people with whom most of us would not want to surround ourselves. But in the hands of this talented cast, we recognize their humanness, their similarities to ourselves as viewers. I initially was surprised that De Niro received an Academy Award nomination for his performance and that Jennifer Lawrence snagged an Oscar for her portrayal of Tiffany. It was certainly a phenomenal movie but Bradley Cooper’s performance was the one that most stuck with me after I first saw Silver Linings. Upon watching it again, I have a much greater appreciation for the entirety of the cast. Silver Linings’ characters are highly nuanced and difficult to make appealing, but I’d argue that they are portrayed without a hitch. I’m sure that much of that success can also be attributed to director and screenwriter David O. Russell whose ability to execute such a difficult movie is certainly commendable.

Watching these at-times troubled people learn to exist with one another is a purely pleasurable experience. Though most movies on mental illness probably wouldn’t seem so, this is one film on the subject that is an undeniable feel-gooder. Though I’m not sure if they were playing Pat Jr.’s social ineptness for laughs, Mike and I certainly chuckled aloud at his faux-paus and the awkwardness of his exchanges with others. Silver Linings Playbook addresses the discomfort of bipolar disorder and the difficulty experienced by those who suffer from it and by their friends and family as well. But it also acknowledges that people with mental illness can find silver linings in all that difficulty, that they are capable of developing strategies and relationships which enable them to lead happy and fulfilling lives.

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