By Byron Gordon | February 23, 2013
Silver Linings Playbook received a ton of accolades. Jennifer Lawrence won an Oscar. And for a film centering on an individual coping with Bipolar Disorder, it is no laughing matter. I know because someone close to me suffers from Bipolar Disorder 2 and I’ve witnessed manic episodes that to some degree mirror the behavior put on display by actor Bradley Cooper. Director and screenwriter David O. Russell adapted Silver Linings Playbook from Matthew Quick’s original novel, which is narrated through the eyes of former history teacher, Pat Peoples. Pat returns to his hometown of Collingswood, New Jersey, after having spent time at a mental hospital. No diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder 2 is actually specified in Quick’s novel, however.
I saw Silver Linings Playbook and having few expectations came away feeling that minus the good acting performances by Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, this is a story with just a dose of too much Hollywood contrivance and not enough truth behind the ugly realities of manic depressive behavior.
Don’t read on if you haven’t seen the film yet. I take issue with David O. Russell’s screenplay on several fronts. In the film, Pat Peoples is diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder 2. The trigger causing his fall from mental stability is finding his wife having an affair with a fellow instructor. What rang false in this cinematic adaptation is how it takes more than one incident for someone to receive such a diagnosis. Most people are in their teens or early 20s when symptoms of bipolar disorder first start, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Symptoms include severe mood swings and rapid cycling between states can be cause for great concern. Bradley Cooper’s character is in his thirties and it deigns all credulity to think he’d have his first full-blown manic episode because he found his wife cheating with another man. This is David O. Russell taking creative license and while he’s free to do so it does not make Cooper’s character more credible or believable as a sufferer from this mental affliction. I’m sure Catherina Zeta Jones could chime in here given her recent admission to suffering from Bipolar Disorder 2.
The ending of Silver Linings Playbook makes me cringe even more. Living with Bipolar Disorder 2 is a lifelong challenge. There is no cure. Most individuals diagnosed will find themselves taking medication for the rest of their lives. Triggers causing manic episodes can happen at any time. Silver Linings Playbook’s “happy ending” mocks the realities of those unlucky enough to receive such a diagnosis and who struggle trying to maintain healthy relationships. In many respects, David O. Russell’s screenplay does an injustice to those who are mentally ill. I can, however, recommend a very fine film that came out back in the 1970′s that focused on life in a mental health care facility. It is called One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest and won Jack Nicholson an Oscar. If you’ve never seen it, do yourself a favor and do so. It’s a far cry from Playbook’s superficial take on mental illness.
Some of the reviews I read about Silver Linings Playbook described it as “savagely funny” or “a rom-com that succeeds in revitalizing that discredited genre.” I’m not sure it’s either. Take away the diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder 2 and this film wouldn’t resonate nearly as deeply. There are some funny moments in this film and I did laugh. But dysfunction is at the heart of just about every comedy storyline Hollywood churns out, both good and bad. While I laud the good acting performances by all who starred in Silver Linings Playbook, this is a case where the “entertainment media” and the general cinema loving audience has bestowed way too much praise on a film that actually lacks the gravitas to address what is surely one of the more debilitating illnesses in human history. For those wanting to learn more about how to cope being in a relationship with someone who is diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, visit the DBSA