Whether they care to admit it or not, mental illness scares people. It doesn’t make us bad people; it is normal for us to fear the unknown and mental illnesses are largely unknown to the general population.
Our society is improving in its’ quest to educate and inform us about mental disorders but there is still a lot for us to learn and accept. There must be something in our own psyche that makes it difficult for us to not attach stigmas when it comes to mental illnesses and the psyches they affect. It is up to us to manually shut down this initial reaction and practice empathy and understanding. I am in no way saying I am an expert in the field but I feel for and can fathom the complexities and issues brought on for one living with a mental disorder and for those in their life.
In Silver Linings Playbook we are sucked into the neurosis of our two–no–make that three main characters, who, as it turns out all have some variation of a mental illness. They are male, female, young, old which conveys that mental illness does not discriminate, an important point to take note of in our quest to understand mental illnesses. Our protagonists are part of family structures, have experienced love, loss, and are rarely understood by those who love them the most. And herein lies the emotional narrative in one of this year’s best pictures and my personal favorite film of the last year.
We meet Pat Jr., Pat Sr., and Tiffany as they are beginning a new chapter of their life. For Pat Jr., it is the rebirth of his whole life as he emerges eight months after an “incident” that landed him in a mental care facility–court ordered no less–to move back in with his parents since his wife and he are taking time off (I won’t divulge anymore here but you’ll learn in early scenes that his marital time apart is directly related to aforementioned incident). Pat Jr. is played by Bradley Cooper who shows off his acting chops–which many of us thought ended with The Hangover-esque acting he has played since first coming into focus back in 2005’s Wedding Crashers–in many poignant scenes. This is Cooper’s chance to come out from underneath his typecast–the main character’s best friend–which he was exhausting us with. If he is smart (and he is) he can use this role to launch him into even more serious roles (like the upcoming novel-turned-film Serena which he will again star alongside Jennifer Lawrence). I’ve said more here about the actor and less about the character but I fear I will give away too much and you shouldn’t be robbed here from thoroughly enjoying his performance. The character Cooper has crafted for us is so lucid that it becomes even more expressive during his “explosive” fits (see what happens when it’s 4:00 am and he needs to watch his wedding video but can’t seem to find it…) To be sure every lesson learned in this film comes from witnessing Pat Jr.’s metempsychosis.
A longtime victim of his disease, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) finds himself in a new career late in life which oddly enough runs parallel to Pat Jr.’s plot (unbeknownst to the audience) until a hilariously executed scene causes an intersection of plans, fate, and everyone’s destiny that unfolds just in time for the final act. This film relies on its’ story (and this key scene) which does not stray and ends in a way that you can’t expect.
Tiffany, played by Jennifer Lawrence in her Academy Award-winning role, is the wild card in all of this. A young widow who suffers from her own self-destructive behavior comes into Pat Jr.’s life at a moment when he needs her the least and the most. She is a firecracker who says and does what you won’t and can’t but this confidence comes from her abundant insecurities. Her unhappiness and heartache is evident on her face when Director David O. Russell offers us many closeups. Lawrence is unrecognizable in a few key scenes such as when she and Pat Jr. are at a diner and she confesses to him the extent of her illness. As you can expect from seeing the trailer, their friendship blossoms from their shared psychosis and tells a story as good as an old Classic. Cooper offers us the film’s takeaways but Lawrence, who wholly deserved her Oscar, is the face we take away. I agree with the rest of the world that she is our next Meryl Streep (I am sure even Meryl agrees).
Silver Linings Playbook is a smart script that finds its’ answers through finding love. It offers honest dialogue about mental health and the way families and friends cope or don’t cope. The Academy was right in nominating it for Best Picture but in my opinion wrong for allowing it to lose to Argo. Hollywood needs more films like this and so do we.
I would be remiss to not include my favorite quote from the movie which you can see in the trailer below:
Pat Jr. (meeting Tiffany for the first time after just learning about her husband’s death and being told not to bring it up): You look nice.
Tiffany: Thank you.
Pat Jr.: How did Tommy die?