Monday, March 04, 2013
Silver Linings Playbook: can't wait to see it again
It turned out that I didn't get queasy AND I LOVED THE MOVIE. After decades of movies like Mommie Dearest, Fatal Attraction, Single White Female, Silence of the Lambs and countless slasher films, I was delighted to see a representation of people living with mental illness who you might actually like to be friends with. The scene in which Pat (Bradley Cooper) and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) first meet, state their innermost thoughts bluntly, compare medication histories and show their emotions openly made me feel amused, supported and recognized. Why? Because I share my innermost thoughts and say/write inappropriate things regularly. To see Tiffany and Pat do it felt very affirming for me.
I don't know how general audiences respond to this film. Do they just laugh at the wackos or do they recognize themselves? Do most people get their first experience with mental illness through this movie or is most of the audience for this film people with mental illness in their lives? I'd love to know that, but I suspect those who enjoy this film the most are people with some experience of mental illness, either in themselves or people they know.
Silver Linings Playbook shows two troubled people working their way through their symptoms to make a real connection and true friendship. This gives me such hope for myself! I also have behaviors that don't work for everyone. My passionate fervor, bluntness, unusual views and tendency towards pessimism sometimes alienate people to the point at which they stop being my friend. I understand this and don't hold it against them. I know I don't have good instincts for what's appropriate at all times and I often say, do and wear things that most people would know are not a good idea. After decades of trying to learn the protocols everyone else seems to know, I've started to just accept myself as I am. Fortunately, I have enough people in my life who can tolerate my behavior that I'm not lonely, plus my workplace is very forgiving. For friends, I just stick with the people who can stand me!
Likewise, Pat and Tiffany are not easy people to get along with. Tiffany is a ball of anger who doesn't mind walking out on a dinner party before the entree is served. Pat wears a garbage bag and wakes his parents up in the middle of the night to give his response to the ending of A Farewell to Arms. They both express exactly what's on their minds at all times with no filter whatsoever. I realize it makes no sense for me to look at mentally ill characters for confirmation of my normality, but that's kind of what happened to me in that theater yesterday. The film portrays Pat and Tiffany as sympathetic characters who the audience supports from the very beginning. Sure they're weird, sure they have their diagnoses and their medications, but the audience sees that they're also human, feeling, loving people with dreams and humor and good sides to balance the bad.
For Silver Linings Playbook to show that people with mental illness are really just like everyone else (just at a more intense level) felt like an act of reaching out to me and everyone who lives with bipolar disorder, depression and other disorders. This is the first movie I've seen that normalizes mental illness, shows it to audiences from the inside and let's everyone see that it isn't dangerous or scary. This movie affected me like a powerful support group that bolstered my self esteem and acceptance of myself.
Seeing Cooper and Lawrence portray people with mental illness helped me see that my behavior isn't so freakish. Pat says to his mother, in front of his father, "You just said it five minutes ago. You said, 'Don't say anything, but Dad lost his job...'" I winced because even I wouldn't do that, but I also recognized it as not too far from things I have said. Why did seeing Pat do things like that make me feel better when he's mentally ill?
I'm just happy about the depiction of mental illness as a functional chronic condition that might be difficult sometimes, but that allows people to maintain relationships, have fun in life and fall in love. By the end of the movie we are absolutely on Pat and Tiffany's side, rooting for them and knowing that whatever challenges they have -- with each other or individually -- they are going to be okay. And they might even be people we'd be fine living next door to.
Edward James Olmos' statement is still true twenty years later: seeing a film while it's in the theater is like casting a vote. Please support positive images of people with mental illness by going and seeing Silver Linings Playbook as soon as possible. I'll be back to see it again next weekend.