Silver Linings Playbook Redefines Mental Illness

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Silver Linings Playbook is the first film in 31 years to receive Academy Award nominations in all four acting categories, joining such films as: A Street Car Named Desire, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and Bonnie & Clyde. Classics. Obviously Silver Linings has made its impression on critics. But why? The film is humorous, well scripted, well cast, and entertaining, but when compared with other films nominated by the Academy, it seems an unlikely candidate.

I can only think that what makes this film so memorable and so interesting is that it’s intensely real. The critical acclaim this film has received restores my faith in consumers of pop culture. We want more than entertainment; we want authenticity.

If nothing else, Silver Linings Playbook is a film that sheds light on mental illness. Many films have explored mental illness in the past, but with disappointing results. Remember 1993’s Mr. Jones? Richard Gere stars as Mr. Jones, a man suffering from bipolar disorder. There’s volatile love, hospitalization, and most memorably, a series of wild rants culminating in a manic rooftop monologue during which Mr. Jones claims he can fly and threatens suicide. Is this how we understand mental illness? If so, we could easily classify people into two categories: the crazy and hospitalized and the normal and happy.

It’s a much different bipolar portrayed in Silver Linings. Bradley Cooper gives a winning and believable performance as Pat Solitano – a bipolar, recently divorced, surprisingly witty, and hopelessly insecure man. Cooper blurs the crazy/sane line a bit (okay, a lot) and I love that. This is what’s real, isn’t it? The boxed-up and entirely specific categorization of mental illness in films of the past has been waiting to be challenged and Silver Linings Playbook does so with a quieting grace. Experiencing a moment of clarity, Solitano quips:

The world will break your heart ten ways to Sunday, that’s guaranteed, and I can’t begin to explain that, or the craziness inside myself and everybody else but guess what? Sunday is my favorite day again. I think of everything everyone did for me and I feel like a very lucky guy.

Silver Linings Playbook puts us in touch with the craziness that exists inside all of us, and challenges us to examine the labels and diagnoses we use to inaccurately define those around us. We love this film because of the comfort it reveals in knowing our commonalities define us much more than our differences.