CINEMA: News Weekly
Romantic comedy looks at mental illness
, February 16, 2013
The Silver Linings Playbook (rated M), starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver and Chris Tucker, is reviewed by Symeon Thompson.
Comical tragedy or tragical comedy? Romantic fantasy or serious social commentary? The Silver Linings Playbook combines all these elements in a compelling and satisfying way, that also challenges the audience.
Pat (Bradley Cooper) has been in a psych ward after a dramatic response to marital difficulties and a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. He is released into the care of his family, and is desperate to repair his marriage. He’s taken up running and reading to become a better person. His mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver) is frazzled, while his father, Pat Sr (Robert De Niro), has his own issues with anger.
In an effort to return to normalcy, Pat goes to dinner with his friends Ronnie (Jake Ortiz) and Veronica (Julia Stiles). They’re still in touch with his wife, Nikki (a mostly unseen Brea Bee), and he thinks that if he can make a good impression, the news can get back to her, and the restraining order lifted.
Instead, he meets Veronica’s sister Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), widowed and suffering with her own, rather significant, problems. They bond through a comparison of their experiences of psychoactive medication. As the story develops, a pact is formed between the two. Tiffany will help Pat communicate with Nikki. In return he will be her partner in a dance contest.
All the while, Pat Sr is operating as a bookmaker, hoping to open his own restaurant. He thinks his son brings him good luck and is keen to have him around. His plans are key to the plot.
David O. Russell is famed for genre-bending creativity with such films as Three Kings, and I Heart Huckabees. His stories tend to mix and match elements in a way that shouldn’t work, but does and does well. Admittedly, it’s not to everyone’s taste, but this reviewer must admit his appreciation.
The same holds true for The Silver Linings Playbook. The soundtrack is a mash-up of stylish classical pieces and tango tunes, romantic pop songs, sorrowful ballads, and the repressed rage of heavy metal. The cinematography switches between shaky kitchen-sink style cinéma vérité and soaring Wellesian long takes. All combine to show the wonder and humour of the everyday.
Critics have been split over this film. The Americans like it, combining as it does so many elements of classic Hollywood, as Roger Ebert points out, and the American ideal. The Europeans call it false and superficial, although one suspects this is because they prefer their genre-bending to be bleak and nihilistic. Since the rise of the Realists in the 19th century, European commentators seem amazingly averse to wonder.
The other, more serious, criticism concerns the presentations of mental illness and its treatment. A few critics seem to think that Pat goes medication-free, and it’s the usual triumph of the will, as was so problematic with the otherwise masterful A Beautiful Mind.
They must’ve missed the scenes in which Pat, after avoiding his meds for so long, resumes them. The film doesn’t make a big deal of this, perhaps because one of the biggest problems for sufferers is not so much the side-effects of their medication, but how medication is made into such a big deal.
The prevalence of mental illness is more and more recognised in our society, but its capacity to unnerve remains. It’s so hard to believe that sensitive wiring in the brain can have such an impact upon behaviour and one’s impression of reality, that many ignore it in themselves or in others. So often, a diagnosis of mental illness gets written off as a cop-out. This is mistaken.
A few years ago Stephen Fry made a documentary exploring his own experiences, and those of others, with bipolar disorder in The Secret Life of the Manic-Depressive. This superb series explored the inner turmoil that can fuel great creativity, but more often is a cause of chaos.
Mental illness is just as real, just as incapacitating, and just as treatable as physical illness. Often, but not always, this involves the use of medications that can have side-effects, but such is the case with any medication. Mental illness can be managed. All that is needed is commitment and the support of capable professionals, as well as friends and family.
The biggest problem facing those with troubled minds is not so much dealing with their demons, but facing them and naming them. It is no coincidence that the Roman Rite of Exorcism has as one of its crucial aspects the discovery of the true name of the possessing devil.
It is a human tendency to avoid the dark and chaotic sides of our natures, but it is only by clearly identifying them, whatever they may be, that we have some chance of overcoming them, and finding the silver lining in our lives.