An undiagnosed bipolar man suffering from delusions and violent outbursts and a woman coping with depression brought on by sudden extreme emotional loss
walk into a bar enter a dance competition.
Hilarity ensues! (Some spoilers ensue as well.)
As someone who regularly deals with depression, I was very curious to see how Silver Linings Playbook that was ostensibly a rom-com featuring two great actors would handle the subject of mental illness. The results were characters and situations I can relate to while still being uplifting and fun to watch.
As Bradley Cooper returns home from eight months in a psychiatric hospital, he immediately has difficulty re-acclimating to “normal” life. Right away I feel for Cooper as he convincingly shows the frustration one feels when you know your brain is lying to you. He knows that song isn’t really playing, he knows that his outbursts are inappropriate, but he can’t help it. His struggle in these moments is sometimes played for laughs but is also heartbreaking. Equally as important as the portrayal of the illness is the portrayal of self-care. As Cooper learns what helps him focus and what he wants to do, he has no issues explaining those things to his family. When people want to use him or ask things of him that he isn’t cool with, he voices his concerns and continues to work on what he needs to feel better. Beginning to end, Cooper is emotional, funny, and honest.
Jennifer Lawrence is given a little less to do. Suffering from a depression brought on by the sudden death of her husband, she must re-learn how to emotionally connect with people. While both characters help each other, Cooper is the central character and as such Lawrence is there to help him far more than vice versa. She has fewer dramatic moments but knocks each one out of the park. The rest of the time she is eminently charming and charismatic. Lawrence proves that she can be both a bit of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl as well as a realistic and deep character.
For all the mental health problems and emotional outbursts, Silver Linings Playbook generally keeps things pretty light. Our protagonists relate to each other by merrily discussing different medications and side effects they’ve experienced. Both of them are prone to saying wildly inappropriate things either due to problems with impulse control or simply not caring what others think. Robert DeNiro and Chris Tucker(?!) toss in laughs from the sidelines. The climax of the film goes full rom-com as, after a misunderstanding, a happy ending is brought about after a big event and the music lets you know that Everything Is Going To Be Okay. It’s a bit of a shame that some of the nuance found in the rest of the movie doesn’t extend to the end. At the same time, after empathizing with these troubled characters, a happy Hollywood ending feels good.
Silver Linings Playbook is a rom-com first and a drama about mental illness second. Ultimately, it’s still about a man and woman falling for each other and helping each other to get past their emotional hurdles. Love conquers all, etc. But the framework of mental illness paired with excellent actors let me relate to the central lovers much more than most other whimsical stories about wacky relationships. This high-quality film is engaging and emotional without being dour or stuffy. Check it out.
Other movies I watched this week (potential minor spoilers below):
Creepshow – This anthology of Stephen King stories directed by George Romero is less about scaring you and more about putting the “fun” back in “funeral.” Nothing here is particularly horrifying (unless you have a fear of roaches). With bright colors, comic book panel transitions, and a Twilight Zone-esque sense of irony, all this thing needs to feel complete is the Cryptkeeper. I got a kick out of seeing young stars like Ed Harris With Hair, Ted Danson, and Leslie Nielson In An Evil Role. Unfortunately, each of the stories feels ridiculously shallow and often drag on too long even with their short run times. Fun practical makeup effects from Tom Savini are a joy to see, but that’s not enough to save this from being anything but idle background dressing for a Halloween party.
Tango & Cash – Oh boy. I…um. Wow. Ok. If someone distilled every buddy cop movie from the late 80’s and early 90’s, distilled them into their purest uncut form, and then weaponized that substance, you’d have Tango & Cash. Starring Sly Stallone and Kurt Russell, this crazy crime caper is meant to be in the vein of Beverly Hills Cop, but actually feels more like a parody of itself. A ridiculous amount of dry one-liners, levity while facing gun-toting goons, and jokes about Rambo being a pussy make this whole thing feel like a cartoon. It’s a crazy little microcosm of a whole genre of movies, a time capsule of a time and place in cinema. It’s a fun watch. Grab some friends and have a good time.
Say Anything – I don’t quite know what to make about this one. As best I can figure it’s a romance about two young people transitioning into adulthood. He needs to find some direction and drive while she needs to learn to break away from her father and make her own decisions in life. Our lead actors are fine but not great. The story just meanders about until it…ends. I never connected with the characters or felt for their struggle. My knowledge of this movie was better left just being the famous boom box scene.
Sausage Party – This foul-mouthed Seth Rogen animated comedy features food items who believe being chosen to leave the supermarket is the ultimate honor, only to discover the horrible truth that they will be maimed and killed. Mockery of religion, sexual innuendo, and food puns galore! Rogen tries to have things both way by playing with typical stereotypes while also saying that we should all just calm down and work together. He accomplishes this with varying degrees of success. This movie made me laugh in spite of myself, and you will too if you enjoy raunchy, slightly offensive guilty pleasure comedies.