Even the non-film buffs amongst you will have heard of this film. It was nominated for eight Oscars, it’s based on a semi-popular novel, it’s written and directed by an award-winning filmmaker and it has a fantastic cast. Robert De Niro hasn’t been better for years (you’ll almost forget about the breastfeeding scene in Meet the Fockers!), and Jacqui Weaver is brilliant as an entirely different matriarch to the one that brought her to our attention in Animal Kingdom. But it’s Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence who steal the show, as a couple of flawed, but likeable, characters who have a whole load of (not literal) shit on their plates.
Cooper plays Pat, a guy recently released from psychiatric care after being court-ordered to serve eight months for beating his wife’s lover to a pulp. He moves into his parents’ attic and wiles his hours away running, and reading classic literature, in an attempt to prove to his wife (who has taken out a restraining order) that he’s a changed man, in order to win her back.
It is later revealed that he has bipolar disorder. Rather than going down the traditional route of portraying him as an outcast, and his condition as something to be ashamed of, the writers have placed Pat in a supportive environment with caring parents, an encouraging brother and a friend who isn’t the typical ‘I don’t understand your situation, so I’m going to avoid you’ fair-weather friend. In fact, there are four primary characters with mental health issues – De Niro’s OCD father, Pat’s fellow ‘inmate’ (played by a hilarious Chris Rock) and Lawrence’s depressed, promiscuous widow. The best part is that these characters are plainly aware of their issues and are completely unapologetic.
It’s refreshing to see something widely considered to be ‘not normal’ portrayed as ‘normal’, or at the very least natural and not something to be frowned on or avoided.
Mental illness rarely features in mainstream films, particularly romantic comedies, and is even more rarely conveyed in a positive light. That’s not to say that Silver Linings Playbook portrays having a mental illness as ‘cool’, but it’s definitely not depicted as being bad. Here, the characters address their demons and make the necessary changes in their lives in order to take control of the situation and move on.
Cynics might argue that the traditional Hollywood happy ending implies that they fell in love and were instantly ‘better’, but anyone who has experienced or witnessed a similar situation will recognise that the characters were able to admit to their problems, ask for help and build a supportive network in which they could trust.
Back in 2005, Brokeback Mountain was dubbed ‘The Gay Cowboy Movie’. Silver Linings Playbook could very easily have been mislabelled ‘The Film With the Crazy Couple’, but it has almost been glossed over as ‘Another Bradley Cooper Rom-Com’ and (quite rightly) won an Oscar (along with its seven other nominations). In fact, it was nominated in every acting category (massive kudos to the fabulous Jennifer Lawrence for scooping a little bald man on the night), screenplay, directing and picture – further proof of just how beautifully, and effectively, such a controversial topic was handled. It really is Time to Change!