The Hollywood Silver Linings Playbook: Fake Right, Go Wrong

To do justice to Silver Linings Playbook, I’m dividing this meditation in three parts. First, I will tell you how great a movie it is and encourage you to see it. [The book is much, much better.] Then, I will tell you how wrong the movie’s message is in the end. I will give the final word, though, to one of my blog readers who experienced the ending quite differently.

First, the movie is great. Never has a film been made that so accurately and compassionately depicts the turmoil of people who battle bipolar. As Pat (Bradley Cooper) plows through volumes of literature (reacting to A Farewell to Arms by throwing it out the window), erupts in a rage over his wedding song played at his 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 loving 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 on-screen beside Robert DeNiro (as Pat, Sr.), Cooper more than holds his own. Jennifer Lawrence does a competent job as the fragile, volatile, strong-willed Tiffany. The supporting cast contributes greatly, particularly Chris Tucker, as the comical delusional psychotic creatively looking for a way out of the hospital.

Not only does the movie accurately portray one man’s mental illness, but also the “craziness” in the family system within which so many bipolar folks live and breathe and have their being. From Pat Sr.’s gambling addiction, to the barely controlled marital rage of Pat’s friend Ronnie (John Ortiz). Even beyond the family system, the scenes where a neighborhood kid drops in wanting to take a reality video for a class on mental illness is spot-on. The craziness of bipolar is not an isolated aberration. It is embedded in 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 multiple directions at the same time. It was like a very enjoyable roller-coaster ride.

But then, there is the end. Every move has a message that 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 message that won the day in the end, likely as a result of Hollywood’s formulaic equation for romantic comedies.

The Hollywood Silver Linings Playbook for battling bipolar has basically seven steps:

Meet a woman with a mental illness who has stopped taking her meds, is lost in grief and is actively pursuing a sexual addiction.

When you are taken aback by her sexual aggressiveness (an offer “to f@#$ me, as long as the lights are on”), start back on your meds to mellow out.

Let down your physical and psychological boundaries when she pretends to be your wife.

When you discover she has lied and deceived you, go through with your commitment to her.

When she tragically tries to pick up another man at a bar, rescue her.

Leave your wife and profess your undying love for this very ill woman.

Snuggle together on a comfy chair trapped in a system that perpetuates the chaos within you.

When I shared this reflection on the movie in a blog post, I received a wonderful response, including many comments from viewers who reacted quite differently than me to the movie. To balance this meditation and motivate you to see the film, I’d like to close with a comment left by one reader:

You make some good points here…. but I think part of Mr. Cooper’s character’s problem was unrealistic hope for a marriage that had run its course. For sure not every bipolar patient should jump ship and look for a replacement. But love is indeed healing. Yes, Hollywood loves romance. But I believe the romance in this one.

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