01 December 2014

I Must Have Been Crazy to Not Have Seen Silver Linings Playbook Until Now

Wild man's world is crying in pain
What you gonna do when everybody's insane
So afraid of fortune, so afraid of you
What you gonna do?
Crazy on you, let me go crazy on you
- "From Crazy on You" by Heart

It’s difficult for me to trust people who would profess to be perfectly sane. Imagine the type of individual who considers their mental and emotional states to exist in a state of perfection. Now that is true insanity.

Of course most people will gladly discuss their physical imperfections at great length, detailing their operations, ailments and aches and pains. But try bringing up and addiction or a psychosis or delusion and people clam up instantly. What’s the big deal? Why the stigma? After all abnormality is normal in the body and the mind is ever so much more complex.

I can go on and on and on on this most public of forums about my struggles and depressions and panic attacks and decades of experience with psychiatrists, but in normal chit chat with colleagues or acquaintances any such topic of conversation is strictly avoided. Meanwhile Bob or Lisa or Chris will feel free to ramble on about their lumbago or skin rash or cataracts. Seriously, what's more interesting, hearing about someone detail their struggles with constipation or with paranoid delusions? That's no contest.

When twelve steppers gather they may make mention of lower back pain or an allergy but they are just as likely -- actually much much more likely -- to discuss their psychotic episodes or obsessive compulsive disorder. That's more like it.

Films have often done an excellent job of showing characters suffering from the ravages of all manner of psychological trauma or disorder. Some shining examples are The Lost Weekend (1945), Sunset Blvd (1950), A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), Two Seconds (1932), Requiem for a Dream (2000), Blue Jasmine (2013). Just recently I saw for the first time -- a full two years after it hit theaters -- Silver Linings Playbook (2012) which I'm now sorry I waited on for so long. Any film in which characters discuss a litany of anti depressants they've taken and I have personal experience with several of them is automatically okay in my book.

Bradley Cooper as Pat and Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany brilliantly portray the experience of being emotionally unwell. Theirs is a broader more public form of mental illness than I've grappled with but it is easy to relate to feeling: just fine thanks, no I'm kinda messed up, what's wrong with me, its everyone else who has a problem, please help, I'm the only person who feels this way, fuck the world, give me drugs, I don't want to be medicated, tell me what I want, don't say anything to me, leave me alone, listen to me.

SLP is not so much about people struggling with mental illness act but how they cope with their illness -- or don't -- and how they cope with others around them, the "normal" people. It is also adept at revealing just how unnormal normal people really are. For example Pat's dad (some guy named Robert De Niro) would qualify as a perfectly normal chap to most, he's not needed any medications or had to visit a shrink and has certainly, unlike Pat, never been institutionalized. There is, however, the business of his being a gambling addict, clearly suffering from OCD and having been banned from Philadelphia Eagle home games for violent behavior. Pat's mom (Jacki Weaver) is a classic American mother which is to say she's a raging co-dependent and his brother (Shea Whigham) is a successful lawyer but is such an unconscionable jerk that he compares his lot in life with his brother. The one just out of a mental hospital. But like I said he's "normal."

Pat has bipolar disorder and Tiffany has borderline personality disorder. The perfect couple. They meet -- are actually set up -- at a time when they both are extremely vulnerable. Having gone ballistic and nearly beaten his wife's lover to death when he found them showering together, Pat served time in a mental institution. He is out and at home with his parents and determined to win his wife back --despite a restraining order. Tiffany's husband was a cop. Was because he is dead. She responded by having a seemingly endless string of one-night stands and now every man who knows her, whether he "got some" or not, wants a turn. After all she is young and attractive.

The reason they have to "hook up" is the stuff of Hollywood movies as is the film's denouement but it is all a small price to pay for a movie so rich in ideas that films so rarely touch. Indeed the cinematic cliches help the medicine go down and I certainly found watching SLP to have medicinal usage. I am after, not quite right. When SLP is awkward and difficult to watch for its content it is still compelling and entertaining because the characters are so well drawn and so fully realized by the actors. We are in the habit of rooting for the central figures in movies and in some films its because we want to see them overcome adversity. For me Pat and Tiffany are especially deserving of good things because there is a generally ugly reality to what they have gone and continue to go through. They aren't fighting bad guys, just the demons within and the prejudices without.

Most films that deal with mental illness either mock those who suffer by making silly caricature's of them or use them as showpieces for performers to chew the scenery. Certainly the likes of Ray Milland, Gloria Swanson, Vivian Leigh, Edward G. Robinson, Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto and Cate Blanchett from the films mentioned above delivered brilliant performances in worthy films, and so for that matter do Cooper and Lawrence. While SLP is not quite on a par with those films, it does stand alone in its depiction of sufferers from mental illness as often being quite aware of what they're going through and mindful of how they are seen and treated by others. Bout time.

Is it a good film or am I just crazy?

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