Thom: Mental illness is a serious and pervasive issue in today’s society and it behooves us all to take it seriously and to treat those who suffer from these maladies with respect.
Or so I’m told. As far as I can tell, mental illness has had no appreciable impact on any significant element of my life. No appreciable impact that is, except for almost every customer that walks into the A/V shop I work at once a week, mostly for the discount. For those that don’t know, I work and live in downtown Edmonton, and it seems like at least every other customer who walks into my store suffers from some chemical imbalance, whether it’s the old lady hermit who’s constantly buying different TV antennas and can’t stop complaining about having to pay so much to Shaw when she only wants to watch CBC, the guy who works at the nearby car wash who’s always asking to use the phone before buying another DVD player only to return it three days later, or the self-proclaimed “audiophile” who swears he can tell the difference between the cheap and expensive speaker wire (and as a commissioned salesperson, thank God for that guy).
Those who suffer from mental illness(es) may deserve our respect (or at least our sympathy), but knowing that as a fact doesn’t necessarily make it any easier to spend time around them. At least not when they don’t look like Jennifer Lawrence or Bradley Cooper.
Silver Linings Playbook can rightly be described as a drama, a comedy, and a love story, but what really makes it worth seeing is its brutal honesty. It’s a strong study in psychoses, not necessarily in its protagonists, but in pretty much every character in the film.
Bradley Cooper plays Pat Solitano, recently released from a mental health facility after beating the man he caught cheating with his wife. Of course, he wasn’t just in there for nearly killing a man who may or may not have deserved it, but because he was diagnosed as bipolar shortly before this incident. We’re told all of this as well as a bunch of related background information while Pat talks to his court-ordered therapist. That’s one of my biggest problem with the film overall. There’s a lot of conveniently placed characters giving each other a lot of room to explain themselves, and while it’s necessary for coherence, it all comes off as a little too expository, and in my experience, most people won’t listen that long anyway. On the other hand, I guess that’s what therapists are there for: to listen (I don’t actually know that though; shockingly, I’ve never been to therapy).
There are a lot of characters in Silver Linings Playbook, and yet every one of them plays an important part. In short order, we meet Danny, another mental patient who claims he’s been released at several points throughout the film, Pat’s dad who’s become a bookie after losing his pension, his mom who’s barely holding things together by sticking to her role as loving wife and mother, and eventually Jennifer Lawrence’s Tiffany, a recent widow who’s just lost her job because she slept with everyone in the office after her policeman husband’s death.
As I watched Silver Linings Playbook, and especially towards the end, I desperately wanted it to not become a love story. Most of the film is framed as Pat’s attempts to reconnect with Nikki, and between not clearly understanding Tiffany’s motivations and all the football stuff (unusually, sports don’t really act as a metaphor in Silver Linings Playbook) I really couldn’t picture Pat and Tiffany together. Even as we find that Pat and his ex-wife Nikki’s marriage may not have been that great in the first place (in a fairly organic scene almost entirely devoid of dialogue) I just didn’t feel like there was much connecting Pat and Tiffany other than that they’re both f*cked up.
Of all of the character relationships, the one that stood out to me most was Pat’s friend Ronnie’s marriage with Veronica (Tiffany’s older sister). I’ve always assumed that if I somehow got married that it would have to be a horrible marriage and that I’d spend the rest of it contemplating ways to kill my wife, my kids, and everyone at my office. But maybe that’s just the household I grew up in. Throughout the film, it becomes obvious how much Ronnie can’t stand the marriage he’s become trapped in, the lifestyle he’s become forced to support, and the child he’s now responsible for. Pretty early on, Ronnie tells Pat that he’s not okay, that he’s being crushed by everything.
You can’t be happy all the time… it’s alright, you just do your best, you have no choice.
And that’s really the point of the whole movie, that we’re all f*cked up, that we’re all drowning in our own seas of despair, debt and obligation, and maybe it’s just a matter of time before we’re diagnosed with some mental disorder. I guess that’s what ultimately makes Pat and Tiffany’s relationship work: they’ve both been through enough, gone through enough psychological torture, and had enough bullsh*t in their lives to know that they don’t have any more time for bullsh*t. And maybe we’d all be lucky just to find a relationship built on such honesty, even if we have to be sentenced to a mental facility to get there.
Grace: I’m familiar with mental illness to the extent that most people are. I’ve known people with diagnosed and undiagnosed conditions, which ranged from “born stupid” to “possibly bipolar or maybe just a b*tch.” I’ve known people with real mental conditions, though, and I’ve seen where their lives ended up. Maybe that’s why this movie hit me hard on the emotional front, because I was able to see their thought processes and the seemingly-sensible choices that led them to where they are now.
As far as plot goes, Thom’s summed it up pretty well, minus the fact that Pat only needs to say, “Nikki and I are getting back together,” all of one time before you want to rip your own ears off. Plot-wise, there really wasn’t a lot happening, I think. The film basically consisted of character development and the process of making oneself better with the help of other people. But I don’t feel like it suffered from a lot of the problems that such films often have, like dramatization of the screenwriter’s own life, an acoustic guitar soundtrack by a band no one’s ever heard of, or the presence of manic pixie dream girls.
I felt like the sports stuff, while not acting as a metaphor for anything, served as an illustration of Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro)’s own mental mindset. He has what might possibly be obsessive personality disorder, given his need to have all three TV remotes perfectly lined up next to each other on the coffee table (although that says a lot about me, too, seeing as I do the exact same thing) and his need to have Pat Jr. watch the (Football? Baseball? Tennis? I’m no good with sports) games with him. Actually, it wasn’t even Pat Sr.’s mindset; it’s more of a contrast between everyday craziness and the more serious kind. It’s easy to mistake one kind for another, and that’s why every Psych 101 student is convinced they have half a dozen different conditions. Liking a certain semblance of order to things isn’t OCD any more than mood swings indicate bipolar disorder. There’s a spectrum for craziness, which I think is illustrated really well in the film.
On that note, I adored Pat Sr. He’s the guy just trying to hold everything together, maybe even more than his wife, especially since he has no idea what he’s doing and just wants a little respect for what he does. Pat Sr. is dealing with the loss of his job and the chaos of his mentally ill son coming home, and he’s found comfort through sports—a comfort his son doesn’t seem to want him to have. It’s easy to get into his head and see everything through his point of view, but it’s not like putting on a blank character and becoming them: you’re sitting in the passenger seat, not the driver’s.
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, while not my all-time favourite actors, are always fun to watch (particularly Lawrence, who is hilarious in interviews. Pat Jr. had an earnest intensity to him, and even when he’s saying the most ridiculous things, you know that he honestly believes them.
It’s electric between us! Okay, yeah, we wanna change each other, but that’s normal, couples wanna do that. I want her to stop dressing like she dresses, I want her to stop acting so superior to me, okay? And she wanted me to lose weight and stop my mood swings, which both I’ve done. I mean, people fight. Couples fight. We would fight, we wouldn’t talk for a couple weeks. That’s normal. She always wanted the best for me.
I feel like Nikki was characterized really well, even though I don’t remember her having any actual lines, because the other characters did it for her. It worked well within the idea of people defining themselves by who they are to other people, particularly Pat Jr. And Lawrence’s Tiffany was an amazing contrast to that. She started out as a slut who banged her entire office after her husband’s death, but decided she didn’t want to be that anymore. It may have been partly because of Pat Jr., but I like to think that the majority of it was Tiffany’s deciding that she was an unhappy person and that she deserved better. Lawrence and Cooper had some solid chemistry, although I’ve gotta say, the kiss at the end of the film felt kind of awkward and forced (but just in setup and placement, not in actual technique; I’m sure it was awesome for them when they were doing it).
Finally, I just love that the big dance scene didn’t adhere to the tired old trope where the spunky underdogs take the whole thing. They scored a 5, which was exactly what they needed (and yeah, I know, it’s more than a little convenient). But there they are, cheering and laughing and celebrating while the professional dancers look on and say to each other, “What are they so happy about?”
I guess that’s what the movie was for me, and cheesily enough, it fits in with the title. Life is messy and complicated and a lot of the time we just want a way out. But some things, like a daily run, our team winning a football game, or a score that gets rid of our financial problems (at least for the moment), can make life just a little more bearable. It really is about finding the little things that make our lives happier when everything else in them is crazy.
Thom: By now it should be obvious that we both liked Silver Linings Playbook without loving it. It’s a movie that works well overall, though it’s harder to say if it’s deserving of all the attention and accolades it’s received. Like most Oscar-bait movies (and of its eight nominations, only Jennifer Lawrence won for best actress), it deals heavily in overwrought emotional themes without being as emotionally manipulative as the movies it transcends just by being nominated. It’s good, but it’s not perfect and it won’t necessarily stick with you as much as its critical pedigree might lead you to believe. If it’s me reading the signs, I would say that you should watch Silver Linings Playbook if you haven’t already, but don’t cancel your plans just to make time for it.
Thom’s Silver Linings Playbook final score: 8
Grace’s Silver Linings Playbook final grade: B+