Mental illness is a tricky subject to portray on film. Portraying it must be taken seriously. Realistic portrayal of a person with a mental illness is difficult. You don’t want to make it too depressing as it will be a difficult watch. On the other hand you don’t want to make a caricature out of it either. Basically the actor(s) and director are walking a tightrope. Doing it successfully takes sensitivity, talent, insight, and intelligence.
Director David O. Russell (The Fighter, I Heart Hukabees) was the right man for this film. He has a son with a mental illness (actually his son has a small role in the film as a neighbour who is always around looking to get the story behind Pat’s return home and his illness) and has made this film in a sort of tribute to him.
Despite the fact that Pat’s (Bradley Cooper – Wedding Crashers, The Hangover) doctor does not recommend it, as soon as the courts say he can leave the psychiatric institution his mother (Jacki Weaver – Animal Kingdom, The Five-Year Engagement) signs him out. Once back at home in a suburb of Philadelphia, his father (Robert De Niro – The Godfather, Goodfellas) is surprised to see him, but not unhappy about it.
We learn that Pat is bipolar and was in the psychiatric institution as part of a plea bargain after he severely beat up a fellow teacher at a high school when he found the man with his wife, Nikki (Brea Bee). Now out, Pat is determined to get Nikki back. He has a plan to make that happen. Having lost a lot of weight through jogging and living his life with a positive attitude that he calls looking for the “silver linings” in life, Pat believes that Nikki will take him back despite all the evidence to the contrary.
Through his best friend Ronnie (John Ortiz – American Gangster, Public Enemies) he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence – The Hunger Games, Winter’s Bone), whose sister Veronica (Julia Stiles – The Bourne Ultimatum, 10 Things I Hate About You) is friends with Nikki. Pat sees Tiffany, a young recently widowed woman with mental problems of her own, as a way to contact Nikki.
Tiffany and Pat strike up an odd sort of friendship. One that begins out of necessity and then evolves into something deeper. Pat needs Tiffany to deliver letters he has written to Nikki that he cannot get to her himself because of the restraining order and she needs him to be her partner in a dance competition. After they begin to spend time together they begin to realize how much they like each other.
This film is very much about the acting of Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. Its success is hinged upon their performances. The role certainly is a departure for pretty boy Bradley Cooper. He is not playing his usual smooth talking guy that makes all the ladies fall in love with him. His Pat is difficult, twitchy, intense, not in touch with reality, and certainly not smooth. In other words Pat is not always likeable. This role and his performance went a long way to convincing me that Bradley Cooper really can act.
Despite their occasionally creepy age difference (Cooper is 37 and Lawrence is 22) Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence had plenty of on-screen chemistry. I, rightly or wrongly, attribute that to Lawrence and her immense amount of talent. This young lady is one of our best young actresses working today. She is full value for the second Oscar nomination she received for her performance in this film. Lawrence’s Tiffany is tough at the same time she is vulnerable, smart, sexy, zany, and difficult. Though she is not the focal point of the film (Pat is) her mental meltdowns are just as important to the story. At such a young age Jennifer Lawrence has already demonstrated an aptitude at portraying characters with plenty of dimensions who are conflicted.
Though I guess if push came to shove Silver Linings Playbook would have to be slotted in the romantic comedy genre, but really it is the least funny or romantic film of that sort I’ve seen in a long while. That is until the very end. It ends as you would expect yet while watching it I never felt like it was predictable. In other words, David O. Russell has taken a much maligned film genre and injected plenty of slightly crazed life into it. He has taken two verging on crazed and quite damaged characters and made us want them to end up together.
What I really liked about this film was the realism. There is no miracle cure for mental illness; it is depicted with sensitivity and realism. Nothing is simplified. We are adults and treated as such in that we are expected to figure things out for ourselves as well as being able to handle difficult moments. He also makes us believe that mentally unstable people need and can find love as long as they find people who accept them as they are.
-Silver Linings Playbook: The Film That Became a Movement
-Learn to Dance Like Pat and Tiffany
-Going Steadicam with Bradly Cooper