Silver Linings Playbook


In one of my high school English classes we watched the Johnny Depp and Marlon Brando film Don Juan DeMarco. It’s about a young man (Depp) who claims to be the legendary lover Don Juan, despite living in modern day L.A. His psychiatrist (Brando) has a little over a week to figure out what’s causing the delusion before he retires. It’s not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but it poses an interesting question about “insanity” and psychological disorders. It’s not much of a spoiler to say that there is some deep-rooted trauma that affected Depp and that he copes with it by pretending (and eventually believing) that he is Don Juan. What’s interesting is that by studying Depp and his infectious enthusiasm for love, Brando’s life (especially his home life) becomes better. So the conflict of the film is Brando is trying to “cure” Depp from his delusions, even though he recognizes that they have a positive effect on his patient and the people around him. It boils down to this: Brando is “normal” and miserable; Depp is “crazy” and joyous. Should Depp be cured because he doesn’t fit the mold?

Silver Linings Playbook similarly deals with mental illness in the guise of a romantic comedy (though arguably, generally all protagonists in romantic comedies could be considered mentally ill – zing). Pat (Bradley Cooper) has just returned home after an eight-month stint in a mental hospital. He’s back living with his parents (Robert De Niro and Jackie Weaver), dealing with his bi-polar disorder, and pining for his ex-wife. Along the way he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a young woman who has issues of her own and manages to manipulate Pat into being her partner for a dance competition. Yes, this is partially a dancing movie – and the climax is set during the “final dance.” Don’t worry though, the dancing is more like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia rather than Save the Last Dance.

What I liked about the film is that the mental illness aspect of it is relatively downplayed. Sure, there’s something “off” about Pat and a couple of scenes illustrate that with him frantically searching the family attic for an old wedding video in a manic state and another where he rages against the ending of a Hemingway novel. And that’s about it. Cooper’s portrayal of the character for the rest of the film isn’t a blatantly “Hey-Everyone-I’m-Crazy” performance, but much subtler than that. He reminded me of the socially awkward characters Michael Cera plays, albeit with no understanding of social cues or a filter when he speaks. The film doesn’t shove scenes of MENTAL ILLNESS down our throats – instead it does the place setting with a couple of scenes and keeps it in the background while exploring something else – like De Niro’s tearful plea to his son, or the obsession that everyone in the city, including Pat’s therapist, has with the Philadelphia Eagles. I really liked that aspect of the film, even if it washes over what bi-polar disorder is actually like (the ending in particular is rather jarring because it seems like Pat can just “switch off” his illness).

Like Don Juan DeMarco, the line can be blurry between why a person is deemed to be crazy while another person is normal. De Niro’s character in particular could be classified as having an obsessive-compulsive disorder – especially with the way he relies on mystic “juu-juu” and properly arranging the remote controls for good luck for Philadelphia Eagles games. Jennifer Lawrence’s character could have borderline personality disorder or she could be coping with her husband’s death in non-constructive ways. The only reason that Pat ends up in a mental institution is because of a violent reaction to a shocking event. He had the choice between jail and a mental hospital – and the hospital was the better deal. Investigating the line between the mentally ill and the eccentricities of individual human beings is the most thought-provoking aspect of this type of filmmaking – even if filmmakers have to rig the argument a bit with unrealistic portrayals of mental illness to make a point.

Silver Linings Playbook won the People’s Choice Award at this year’s TIFF film festival, and deservedly so. This is a sweet, funny, and crowd-pleasing film that doesn’t pander to the lowest common denominator and features some of the best performances of the year.

Grade: B+


2 Responses to Silver Linings Playbook

  1. Julia Turnbull says:

    Yet another great review. I always go to Modest Movie first!!

  2. Jacob says:

    This movie looks awful. Everytime I see the commercial where the super smug-looking guy says “If you do what I say blah blah blah, YOU…can have a silver lining!” I cringe. I can’t stand know-it-all characters with sh*t-eating grins.

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