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The Bipolar Silver Linings Playbook

Hey lovelies. Beau here with a recent trip to the David O. Russell multiverse, which has gotten tamer than I once remembered it.


I understood Pat Solitano, Jr. and Sr., their individual and collective struggles in life. Which isn’t to imply that both are readily and consistently sympathetic characters, far from it. But as I made a pitstop at the Landmark Cinemas in Los Angeles on Saturday, on my way home from a quick rendezvous with old friends, I made it a point to sneak in while I could to catch this film. All things considered, the talent involved was what intrigued me. Who better to direct a film about one individual’s struggle with his anger than David O. Russell, who experienced a nice bout of controversy years ago when videos of him and Lily Tomlin getting into it on the set of I ❤ Huckabees rose from the ashes? Who better to take on the role of a young man suffering an identity crisis and highs and lows than Cooper; he's been stuffed and compartmentalized into so many boxes in the industry that by this point the dude should be dead from paper cuts alone? 

It’s only too ironic then, that Silver Linings Playbook is a bipolar affair...

It operates in fits and starts, bursts of manic welcome energy immediately followed by another scene where the film apologizes for its outbursts. It’s like watching a stand-up where 
the comedian is going off the rails, saying all the things you know to be true about life, relationships, work, etc. only to apologize immediately thereafter if it offended anyone. Armed to the teeth with an impressive cast who do their damnedest to make the material work, it’s hard to fault Silver for being a maindependent film, tackling prevalent issues and presenting them in an neat little box adorned with a red ribbon. That’s how exposure works; the pill has to go down smoothly, sans any kind of jagged edges. That’s how we learn. But as the issue of mental illness becomes even more prominent and public, as it has over the last decade, art has been quick to expose some of its inherent truths and produce works that accurately and humanely depict the highs and lows of this disease. (The Broadway musical Next to Normal comes to mind, as does Claire Danes’ storyline on Homeland, among others). 


Where I take issue with Silver Linings is that it glosses over the real dangers of mental illness, much the same way Flight does with addiction (albeit in a different manner). It fancies itself a Capraesque fable for the twenty-first century, a love story between two damaged souls who find themselves in each other and move forward. Touching a sentiment as that is, it struck me as naive. It’s a film you settle into thinking it’s going to be this loud, strident, brash character study that then softens its voice, takes a breath and smiles falsely for what turns out to be a fairly straight, color-by-numbers narrative. I take issue with Silver Linings Playbook in the same way that I took issue with elements of Flight, the same way I took issue with Take Shelter.

You can’t bring us into this kind of environment and expect us to buy an easy resolution. Shit don’t work that way. An addiction, an illness, an infestation, a sore, an invasion doesn’t apologize for itself. We shouldn’t apologize for our reaction to it either. 

Let the cuckoos cuckoo loudly. Let’s try to make out what they’re saying.

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Reader Comments (14)

Thank you. More people need to see and say things like this about SLP, especially if Nathaniel's right about its marching towards a Best Picture nomination.

November 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJ.P.

I think someone didn´t understand the movie and probably should have read the book first. It´s called "Silver Linings Playbook" for a reason.

November 21, 2012 | Unregistered Commentertherealmike

Apparently not. But if I had to read a book every time I didn't understand the film, sort of defeats the purpose.

November 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBeau

As a big fan of I Heart Huckabee's, I'm looking forward to seeing this. Beau, thank you for bringing this question up. In a film like the brash What About Bob?, we can accept mental illness as purely a conceit. But when a film vacillates from comedy to drama to romcom and back again, treating the issue so cavalierly doesn't come off so well. I might be seeing it this weekend.

November 21, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

therealmike: I'm not really feeling that impressed in the book. There's points where it feels like it's human and real, but from a subtle early warning bell detail like Pat's criticisms of Kenny G's Songbird, which bizarrely include the words "sexy" and "erotic" to describe the instrumentation, words I'd more expect to be tossed around by a FAN of the song than by a CRITIC of the song, to the fact that, at 40% through, I have not seen neither hide nor hair of dialogue or narration indicating that Pat's even ATTEMPTING to get his old job back, there's just as much that makes the book feel like a very manufactured universe.

November 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I felt pretty much identical to you about this. Silver Linings, much like The Fighter oddly enough, is one of those movies I have a mildly negative feeling towards, if only because it's Oscar hype/adoration is too much in my eyes. If it came out in March, Silver Linings might be a film I tell people is worth your time and feel warm to it. Amidst the end of year madness, it's a too flawed movie that irks me. Such is life.

November 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrianZ

therealmike: And, reading it, my mind's also going, "Instead of trying to legitimize filmed adaptations of video games with an Uncharted adaptation, David O. Russell REALLY wanted to do this book? Really?" The former could have, frankly, been to video game adaptions what the 1978 Superman film was to comic book adaptations. The latter is, so far, the kind of paint by numbers quirk fluff that flies over so well at festivals and, these days, with The Academy but will not last even five years in the mass public consciousness.

November 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

therealmike: If you tell someone that she has to read the book to understand the movie—not fully appreciate, mind you but basically understand—then you're fundamentally acknowledging that the movie didn't do a good enough job in bringing the book to the screen and ultimately fails as an adaptation.

November 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJ.P.

I saw the movie yesterday, never having read the book, and thought it was fantastic. A really good time at the movies and there's nothing wrong with that. Guess some sort of backlash was inevitable for such a light/fun movie with all this Oscar hype. It's a shame that people can't seperate that from their experience.

November 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAdam

I don't like to consider awards when I watch a film. Does it still happen? Sure. But my reaction to a film is not backlash to backlash to backlash to acclaim. It's simply a quick, knee-jerk understanding of my feelings, and then later I try to explore why I felt that way. The sensation is immediate; considering the reasoning behind that comes later.

November 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBeau

I can relate with your review Beau. I just saw the movie, and it rubbed me the wrong way. I would have much preferred it if the background story for Bradley Cooper's character was packaged in a way similar to Jennifer Laurence's, meaning "i went through a tough time/life-altering event and I'm recovering", rather than "I'm bi-polar and I'm learning to live with it". The outcome would have been more credible, and the movie would have played like a light romance, which is all that it could ever achieve in my view.
Instead, the movie insists on exposing the world through the eyes of a mentally ill character, only to remove every characteristic inherent to their illness until they become typical romantic comedy-type leads. What I want to know is, what is the picture of a couple with mental illness in love? How does it manifest? What are the physical and emotional struggles? This movie won't answer those questions.
I'm also realizing just how differently people are reacting to this movie. Judging from the reaction of the room, and based on some of my friends' comments, I get a sense that people who are more exposed to mental illness (either through their field of work/study, or by acquaintance), are finding the happy ending much harder to swallow.

November 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterG.ShaQ

Guys, that´s not what I said. I didn´t say you have to read the book before you watch the movie. It´s just that I get the feeling he didn´t get the movie. "...bursts of manic welcome energy immediately followed by another scene where the film apologizes for its outbursts..." In my opinion that´s supposed to be intentional, that´s what bipolar means. That´s what you´ve felt reading the book.
BTW O´Russel did this movie because his son is bipolar. So I think he knows about this subject very well.

November 22, 2012 | Unregistered Commentertherealmike

Very strong for the first two thirds. Last third (football stadium scene onward) is literally a list of cliches.

November 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew r.

I think I really benefited from seeing this with NO expectations. If I had gone in thinking potential Oscar nominee, I probably wouldn't have enjoyed it half as much as I did. It's a wonderfully made little romcom with a handful of lovely performances and a bit of David O. Russell's manic energy tossed in. It is decidedly not a hard hitting look at the dark side of bipolar disorder.

November 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTB

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