Silver Linings Playbook is well worth the trip to the theater. It is what one might call a “feel good movie,” pun entirely intended. As Doug mentioned, a friend of TMT’s has been able to get us into early screenings of films so that we can be like “real” movie reviewers and see the flicks before the masses. Well, the benefit of that is that you are sitting in a crowd of movie-lovers before there has been a lot of buzz about a movie. You have fresh eyes and the reactions to the films seem a little more honest, for lack of a better word. The atmosphere at Silver Linings was incredibly positive, a lot of laughter, a lot of people thoroughly invested in the machinations of this family unit.
Speaking of honesty, the film revolves around Pat, played by Bradley Cooper, a 30-something high school teacher whose recent mental break earned him a court ordered 8-month stint in a mental institution. For the first time, Pat’s mood swings and other symptoms, including the apparent inability to self-censor, are diagnosed as bi-polar disorder. Pat serves his time and returns to stay with his parents as he continues his healing. Pat is estranged from his wife, but he is determined to get her back and this keeps him focused until he meets Tiffany, played by Jennifer Lawrence. Tiffany has her own set of mental issues, after very unexpectantly losing her husband, and she takes a shining to Pat. One thing leads to another and Tiffany ends up convincing Pat to be her partner in a dance competition. When you really think about the plotline, I’ll admit, it hangs together shakily at best, but is is a credit to David O.Russell, who wrote the screenplay adaptation of Silver Linings and directed the picture.
It’s hard to say what makes Silver Linings so good. Certainly part of it was how Bradley Cooper moves Pat between his panicky manic stages and his, while socially awkward, day-to-day activities, Pat’s “normal.” The movie has a great ensemble cast that includes Robert De Niro, Chris Tucker, and Julia Stiles, among others, and all their performances are solid. But really what makes the movie is that it isn’t really about Pat’s mental illness. Sure, that’s the conflict around which so much revolves, but the point of the movie is that everyone has their own stuff to deal with and they all find their own ways of coping. Whether it’s Pat Sr.’s superstitions or Ronnie’s panicked ramblings, every character demonstrates their own issues, but also how they cope. Pat’s issues are just a little more public. As Pat works to control his illness, he has taken to looking for the silver lining in situations and his attempts to be positive rub off on those around him. It’s hard to be down on a flick about looking for silver linings in hard situations and about families and friends who are trying to look out for one another, trying to take care of one another, and just generally doing the best that they can. And you can’t really beat the feeling of being in a room full of people who are invested in seeing that kind of story play out.
Sure, there are things to criticize in Silver Linings. The ending is a little too neat, everything is wrapped up in a neat little package and I do have to wonder how a person with bi-polar disorder or any mental illness might feel about the treatment of mental illness in the movie. Mr. Russell probably deserves credit for his handling of the scenes that deal exclusively with Pat and his illness. But at the same time, mental illness in general is treated in a sort of lighthearted way and I find it hard to believe that a person who has a serious break due to bi-polar disorder would recover the way that Pat does. But, while the film is lighthearted, and the ending is perhaps a little too tidy, it doesn’t seem to me that the film tries to make light of mental illness. Instead, it presents a fairly optimistic picture of what comes from looking on the bright side of things and resiliency which is something I’m always happy to take a little dose of.