SPOILER ALERT—This review is a critical analysis of the theme of mental illness portrayed in this film. For those who have not yet viewed this movie, this review could give parts of the plot away.
A common Holiday activity for many people is to catch a movie during an extended holiday weekend. This year I decided to use my holiday break to watch Silver Linings Playbook. As a mental health therapist, Silver Lining’s theme of mental illness caught my attention, and it delivered a surprisingly endearing story of family, love, and mental health. Although this Hollywood depiction of mental illness is one that we have seen before, it does have its unique elements that make it memorable.
On the surface, Silver Linings Playbook is built on the romantic comedy genre, yet the plot has multiple layers that bring in moments of serious drama. The film’s novelty is that it questions what is normal and what is abnormal, which is something that many movies about mental illness fail to do in a serious way. Almost all of the characters display some type of emotional problem: compulsive gambling, marital problems, depression, anxiety, and co-dependence to name a few. Yet the main character, Pat Solitano (played by Bradly Cooper), is at the center of everybody’s attention. Family, friends, and former co-workers focus on his recent hospitalization by making blatantly insulting or passive-aggressive comments. Some of the characters show their superiority through co-dependence. Although Pat has his problems, part of the humor of this movie is that others think that they are better off. However as the movie progresses, it is questionable how much better off they truly are.
Silver Lining’s primary theme of “love can conquer all” works well in the romantic comedy tradition, but not without some downfalls. The romantic comedy formula provides surprising complexities to its characters’ internal and external struggles. In time, Pat falls for grief-stricken Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who presents with her own set of emotional and sexual issues. For a romantic comedy plot, “two crazy lovers” might be charming. However, from a mental health professional’s perspective, this message communicates the dangerous idea that relationships “neatly” solve problems, help people feel better, and provide the possibility for a “happily ever after.” Though meeting someone new is exciting, it doesn’t necessarily help those dealing with emotional problems to feel better, to heal, or to gain long-term stability. After the initial excitement, the new sex, and warm feelings that you enjoy in the beginning of a relationship, the true complexities of being in a relationship end up on full display. Relationships are tough work. They come with compromise, frustration, and patience. Without the right tools on how to deal with these life’s stressors, stress can increase, rather than go outshined by romantic bliss. Although everyone has their own set of issues, struggling with major mental disorders such as those depicted in Silver Linings’ is usually a sign that a person needs to look inward. This kind of work is not easy to do while in a new relationship. That early part of a getting to know someone redirects attention from yourself to somebody else, which is exactly what you do not want to do. Thus, getting into a relationship is often more of a short-term distraction. In all likelihood, the characters in Silver Linings could not support a long-term relationship, despite the romantic confession of love at the end of the film.
On the other hand, Silver Linings tells a story that is fun and endearing to watch. It is fair to remember that this is a fictitious story. Most people are going to be rooting for these characters to acknowledge how they feel for each other. This acknowledgment is harmless as long as viewers remember that the love theme is not reality, and “happily ever after” is pure Hollywood fantasy.
Love is not the only theme of this movie’s plot. Although the characters’ problems are slightly over-dramatized, the theme that we are our best selves when we focus on our own problems, rather than other peoples’ problems should not go ignored. Silver Linings reminds us that everyone has their own set of issues and baggage. Some people deal with these issues, while others choose only to focus on other issues outside of themselves. Many of the characters mask their problems by pointing to Pat’s behavior, mistakes, and instability as a distraction from their own troubles. However, from the point-of-view of the audience, there are not many differences that separate Pat’s extreme depression from other characters’ problems. Those who are most critical of Pat are, in fact, suffering from their own personal and mental health problems. This reminds us that in our times of being most critical of others, we would do ourselves a favor to look inward to make positive changes.
Silver Lining’s Playbook is worth the time to watch. The plotline, acting, and dose of mental health realism make it a surprising change from the usual romantic comedy. The mental health issues are portrayed in a thoughtful, entertaining manner. The love story is charming, but not without its problems. However, as long as you can separate reality from fictitious love, you will not be disappointed by this movie.