Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Cross Between Saturday Night Fever and Long Day's Journey Into Night

Everybody who’s seen Silver Linings Playbook probably has an opinion it. I was very eager to see the Oscar-nominated film especially after viewing the interview between Katie Couric and the director, David O. Russell and the two lead actors Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper. The interview was a heartfelt discussion about the experience of a family who’s impacted by mental illness – the struggle, the frustrations and pain of parents attempting to help their child, the tears…

Naturally anyone impacted by mental illness is gladdened by the fact that this brain disorder is being addressed in a mainstream feature movie. The fact that this topic which is so often ignored or sensationalized receives attention and visibility is a plus. However after seeing the film, I did have some questions that were similar to those I experienced after seeing the Broadway musical Almost Normal. Both films depict individuals with Bi-Polar Disorder. And certainly Silver Linings does a good job of capturing the mania of the protagonist Pat who’s just been released from a psychiatric facility after physically assaulting his wife’s lover.  Unfortunately, depicting the depression which usually accompanies Bi-Polar Disorder is much more difficult to show on the screen because movies are about “action” and depression is often about “inaction”.

Also I thought this plot point was the story’s weakness. Just like in Almost Normal where the mother ostensibly becomes ill due to the death of an infant, the implication is that Pat becomes ill and behaves in an out-of-control manner because of his wife’s infidelity. In other words, if bad things didn’t happen to good people, we wouldn’t have mental illness. That simply isn’t the case. Though schizophrenia occurs more frequently when abuse is present in the person’s background, there are many young people from happy healthy environments who are vulnerable to the illness. And people from extremely abusive homes who don’t get it. Ditto for Bi-Polar Disorder. Circumstances like stress or abuse can trigger attacks of the illness but it often arises “out of the blue” with no discernable causation. The irrational and unaccountable nature of mental illness is usually very difficult for people to understand or accept. Especially in movies we want clear-cut reasons for why things happen!!

When describing Silver Linings to others, I tend to use movie shorthand: “Well it’s kind of a cross between Saturday Night Fever and Long Day’s Journey into Night. As you may recall, the first movie is a wonderful dance flic about a working class family while the later is about an extremely dysfunctional family scourged by the opiate addiction of the mother. The first is basically an upbeat love story revolving around a dance competition and that’s the direction that Silver Linings takes after Pat meets the gorgeous, nutty Tiffany, starts popping his meds and learns to dance. In other words, meet the right girl and the right medication and you’ll be all right. Everyone will cheer for you in the end.

As we all know life rarely has such triumphant moments. Mental illness goes on and on and on. There are victories and then there are defeats and then possibly another victory and so on – if you’re lucky you can maintain an equilibrium between the two ­­– that’s what you end up striving for.
And yet there’s a lot to cheer for in Silver Linings because it does bring mental illness into the spotlight in a very humanizing light; these are all people we can recognize and relate to and care about. We see their anxiety, embarrassment, grief, tears. We want them to succeed – not just the two lovers ­– but Mom, Dad, Brother, Friends – it’s a whole community that finally pulls together. And let’s face it – that’s what we all need!!