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Being a busy grad student, I don’t get to squeeze in as much movie-going time as I would like, so I didn’t get to see Silver Linings Playbook until just recently. Due to all the critical gushing, it was pretty built up in my mind. I feel that it delivered, though. Not only is it artfully done, yet devoid of pretentiousness, it also brings humanity and humor to the tough subject matter of mental illness. Hollywood usually gives such topics a wide berth, or if it does take on characters with mental health issues, the audience is made to suffer, a la Girl, Interrupted.
Silver Linings Playbook is the tale of Pat (Bradley Cooper), who has bipolar disorder, and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence; she won an Oscar), who struggles with depression following the death of her husband. Pat is fresh from the hospital and determined to get his estranged wife back, when Tiffany takes him down an unplanned course. An alternately tragic and funny look at life and heartbreak, it also encompasses family, friendship, football, the importance of place, and even a dance competition. I read that director David O. Russel’s son copes with bipolar disorder, which perhaps helped him achieve the genuine feel of the Silver Linings Playbook. It’s not all brooding and breakdowns in this film’s portrayal of mental illness – there is that, but there is joy and even fun as well.
There are many parts of this film that struck me – too many to cover in this blog. One in particular, though, really brought up an interesting idea about mental illness. Early in the film, Pat and Tiffany are discussing her particular demons. She says that her illness is “dirty” and “sloppy,” but that she likes that part of herself. This provides an interesting contrast to Pat’s take on his bipolar disorder, which he wants to completely scrub clean from himself. He relays his disgust with Tiffany’s statement to his therapist, who wisely sees how someone like Tiffany could benefit Pat’s black-and-white approach to thinking. In the end, she also benefits from his dogged positivity. One of the best lines of the film is when Pat tells Tiffany, “The only way to beat my crazy was by doing something crazier.” I believe he is referring to the dance competition they took part in, but I also see it as a statement that sometimes, in order to make a real change, we need to get out of our comfort zone.
Yes, Silver Linings Playbook has a happy ending, but that doesn’t make it trite. In fact, I think the ending makes it a better film, because it instills hope, which is critical in treating mental illness. This is definitely a film worth seeing not only if you like good movies, but also if you like good movies that get people talking about mental health.
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