I saw Silver Linings Playbook and would like to review it in two parts.
First, I will tell you how great a movie it is and encourage you to see it (if you haven’t already). To distinguish this section from the latter (spoiler) part, I’ll indent it in quotes.
Then, I will tell you how wrong the movie’s message is in the end (so don’t read this unless you remain obstinate to not seeing the movie or if you’ve already seen it.
Okay, here goes …
Never has a movie been made that so accurately and compassionately depicts the turmoil of people battling Bipolar. As Pat (Bradley Cooper) plows through volumes of reading (reacting quite viscerally to A Farewell to Arms), erupts in rage over his wedding song played at the psychiatrist’s office, and explodes in violence toward his mother when he can’t find his wedding video, we see the ravages of the illness. Yet, the person of Pat is not far away, as he moves quickly to remorse and regret.
Cooper’s portrayal of Pat is nothing short of brilliant. Standing beside Robert DeNiro (as Pat, Sr.), Cooper more than held his own. Jennifer Lawrence did a competent job as the fragile, volatile, yet strong-willed Tiffany. The supporting cast contributed greatly, particularly Chris Tucker, as the funny delusional psychotic looking for every way to get out of the hospital.
Not only does the movie accurately depict one man’s mental illness, but the “craziness” in the family system within which so many Bipolar folks emerge. From the gambling addiction of Pat Sr., to the barely controlled marital rage of Pat’s friend Ronnie (John Oritz). Even beyond the family system, the scenes where a neighborhood kid drops in wanting to take a video for a class report on mental illness is spot-on. The craziness of Bipolar is not an isolated aberration. It is part of our culture.
Finally, the story itself (until the end) is exquisitely complex. I often find myself trying to anticipate resolution as I watch films and this one had my mind going in so many possible directions. It was a roller-coaster ride I thoroughly enjoyed.
So, if you haven’t seen it, go see it. I’ll occupy myself while you’re gone.
If you have seen it, read on.
Are we ready?
Every movie has a message which is driven home by the way the movie ends. While the primary intended message of this movie may well have been to de-stigmatize mental illness (in which case it succeeded), there was a more subversive (perhaps secondary) message that won the day, likely as a result of Hollywood’s formulaic equation for romance films.
The “Hollywood Silver Linings Playbook” for battling Bipolar is basically this -
1) Meet a mentally ill woman who has stopped taking her meds, is lost in grief and is actively pursuing a sexual addiction.
2) When you can’t handle her sexual aggressiveness (an offer “to f&%! me, as long as the lights are off), start back on your meds to mellow out.
3) Let down your physical and psychological boundaries when she tries to pretend to be your wife.
4) When you discover she has lied and deceived you, go through with your commitment to her.
5) When she tragically tries to pick up another man at a bar, rescue her.
6) Leave your wife and profess your undying love for her.
7) Live happily ever after.
There are so many ways the movie could have ended differently that would have conveyed respect and understanding for both Pat and Tiffany’s brokenness without offering a prescription for spiritual and psychological catastrophe. Instead, after over an hour of creating a compelling, compassionate story about two strong survivors, the movie disregards their unique needs and throws them together romantically to fit the formula.
One of the great tragedies of such thoughtlessness is that Bipolar folks desperately tired of fighting the demons within themselves and particularly those struggling to work on a troubled married relationship are given the fairy-tale illusion that “you can experience fulfillment if you just find someone as broken as you are who understands and accepts you.”
Forget your marriage.
Forget your meds (in the case of Tiffany).
Forget your values (like honesty).
Just feel good snuggling together on a comfy chair trapped in a system that perpetuates the chaos within you.
Now, I’m very eager to hear your response about the quality and the message of the film. How did you react?