Reviewed by Rosemarie Leenerts, Library Assistant
Nearly 10 million Americans live with a serious mental illness and many millions more have milder forms. These are people we work with, live with, and befriend. But even with such a pervasive disorder, Hollywood tends to cling to stereotypes in creating mentally ill characters, often making them into evil, deranged killers or people who never fit into society. This depiction perpetuates the misunderstandings and stigma that shroud mental illness. The 2012 comedy-drama Silver Linings Playbook, however, is one film that gets it right by giving an honest look at mental illness and how it affects not only the sufferer, but those around him.
As Silver Linings Playbook opens, we meet schoolteacher Pat Solitano (Bradley Cooper) in the mental-health facility where he was institutionalized for beating up his wife’s lover after catching the pair together. His mom, Dolores (Jacki Weaver), signs him out after serving his minimum eight-month stint, and Pat vows to turn his life around through a healthy lifestyle and by looking for silver linings wherever he goes. His main objective is to get his now former wife, Nikki, back, but the conditions of Pat’s parole include living with his mom and recently laid-off dad, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro), currently making money as a bookie; meeting regularly with a psychiatrist to treat his bipolar disorder; and staying away from Nikki, who has issued a restraining order against him.
At his friend’s house for dinner one night, Pat meets a young woman named Tiffany Maxwell (Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence), who also is dealing with emotional issues after the sudden death of her husband. What may seem like an obvious romance is complicated by Tiffany’s current mental state and Pat’s goal of reconciling with Nikki. In need of a partner for a dance competition she has been yearning to perform in, Tiffany recruits Pat, who looks to Tiffany as a liaison to pass forbidden correspondences between him and Nikki, an acquaintance of Tiffany’s. Tiffany, however, has other plans. The plot climaxes at their entertaining, albeit absurd, dance performance, where Pat hopes to finally reunite with Nikki on the same night the Solitanos’ beloved Philadelphia Eagles play the Cowboys in a football game that could mean a life-changing payoff for Pat Sr.
As in real life, the film has its tender moments, such as when a teary-eyed Pat Sr. tells Pat he may have done him a disservice as a dad, and its many funny moments too, like when Pat flings a copy of A Farewell to Arms through a window or when Tiffany rattles off sports statistics to prove she is not messing with the Eagles’ juju. The film also shows that mental illness often does not occur in a vacuum in families, as Pat Sr. exhibits quirks and tendencies that border on the unstable. Without exception, the stellar cast does not let the audience down and neither do the writers in portraying the mentally ill as multidimensional and mental illness as complicated.
The Oscar-nominated Silver Linings Playbook (rated R), based on the novel of the same name by Matthew Quick and directed by David O. Russell, is available to reserve and borrow through curbside pickup. Check it out in observance of Mental Illness Awareness Week and World Mental Health Day on Saturday, October 10.