I vaguely remember seeing the trailers for Silver Linings Playbook, and I don’t recall if it was advertised as a film about a guy with Bipolar disorder. I had heard some positive reviews about the movie. I read it was a comedy about a guy coming out of a mental hospital after 8 months, starting his life over again after a disastrous broken relationship with his ex wife. It perked my interest. BUT…I walked in skeptical. For the most part, I never cared for a lot of Hollywood interpretations of mental illness simply because they tend to ride on a lot of cliche’s. The hospital nurses are always evil. The patients are quirky one dimensional subjects, who have their “thing” that they do. The head doctor, who always appears nice on the outside turns out to be the most evil and conniving of all. But rarely do we get an ordinary account of a guy with a mental illness, what happens after the hospital, and the reintegration into society (i.e. returning to an ordinary life). By the end of the movie, Silver Linings Playbook turned out to be exactly what I hoped for.
At many times, the film is hilariously funny, and the manic behavior from Pat (Bradley Cooper) is funny because its all so real and true to life. Pat keeps obsessing over his ex-wife, and a delusion that he’ll be able to return to his life with her and be happy. 8 months ago he caught in the shower with another man, and Pat beat the man senseless, which led to him going to being put in the hospital and being diagnosed as Bipolar, a condition he never knew he had. He moves in with his parents, his mother and his O.C.D. father Pat Sr. (Robert Di Nero, who by the way is just terrific here). Bradley Cooper nails it with his performance of Pat, taking us on a journey of a lost man, refusing to acknowledge his old life is gone. He now knows the name of a passenger that’s been with him all his life (Bipolar disorder), driven by mania and trying to put his life back together again. When he meets young Tiffany, a young adult with plenty of manic quirks of her own, she eventually becomes the grounding force in Pats life for his obsessive and manic behavior.
I have one particular favorite scene in this movie. It’s the scene where Pat is tearing the house apart in the middle of the night searching for his wedding video (which his parents obviously hid). The scene starts out hilariously funny, but quickly turns as Pat begins to have a meltdown, reliving the moment he caught his wife with another man in the shower. What I found compelling about that scene was the fact that I didn’t know what I was feeling in that moment Pat had his meltdown. It wasn’t shock or pity or saddness. It was a moment of insight. In the pit of my stomach, I was held by a moment I couldn’t easily describe with any sort of feeling, except to say…”wow“. That’s it. Between a combination of direction by David O. Russell, editing, and Bradley Cooper’s performance, they nailed it right there in that moment.
The film is not entirely perfect. It does have a few pacing issues, and there are some scenes which I felt went on a little too long, such as the diner scene with Pat and Tiffany, which ends on a strong note, but it takes a little while to get there. Along the way, there are some good supporting characters, but many of them are only important for their scenes in the beginning of the film, and then they would just “stick around” afterward without anything really useful to do that contributed to the story. One character for instance is Dr. Patel, Pat’s psychiatrist, who we see with him in his office, and then later Pat has a funny run in with him at a football game, where his psychiatrist is dressed up in full sports fan mode with face-paint and his belly hanging out. I was really happy they showed this, because the film breaks the cliche set up by Hollywood about psychiatrists being “the devil”, and shows them as real people, who like to go out and have fun and enjoy their life. The only problem is they have Dr. Patel stick around for the dance competition at the end where he really serves no other purpose except as support. I think we should have left him at the football game scene because the point was already made. Another character who is like this is Daniel (Chris Tucker), who is absolutely hilarious and wonderful in the opening scene, where Pat asks his mom to give him a ride, not knowing that he’s really trying to escape from the hospital. Daniel is important in that first scene as part of Pat’s introduction, and as we expect he does come back later in the film. While Daniel has a few charming moments in the movie, like Patel, he doesn’t really contribute anything to the overall story, and it seemed like it was done more for the need of giving Chris Tucker more material. But Chris Tucker is wonderful in his screen time. The funny thing is, because this is Chris Tucker, you almost expect him to play the character as much more manic and over the top, but instead he actually plays it down. It’s a more subdued kind of crazy, but he‘s very charming and likeable in the film.
The other thing this movie does is bring together again Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper, who were both terrific together in Limitless. This time DeNiro is playing Pat’s father. This is really one of the best performances I’ve seen from DeNiro recently, who is not only funny, but also a little sad when (being O.C.D.), he has no control over his sons behavior. While the movie never loses its sense of humor and never gets too dark, there are many moments of truth in this film about the real struggle of dealing with a mental illness and getting your life back together again. One of the things I found endearing about the movie is that while Pat is pretty much the admitted “mental patient”, everyone around him has their own little bits of crazy, as if to say in a subtle way that we all have a crazy side we are in tune with. Some more than others!
But for people watching this film who are mentally ill, I found this movie to be a progressive step, which doesn’t stereotype or catagorize the mental patient experience, but instead gives you an honest truthful account of what a person with mania really goes through. I also feel it sends a strong message to those dealing with mental illness about helping yourself, taking responsibility with meds, letting go of the past, and working to get your life together again.