Silver Linings Playbook Is Excelsior!

Manic depression runs in my family, so I was curious to see Silver Linings Playbook, which has a bipolar protagonist. For a long time people didn’t know what manic depression/bipolar disorder was—my mom says they just always called it “the family illness” when she was a kid. But now mental health professionals do and there are a lot more civilized treatments for it—drug therapies that really work—rather than institutions, shock treatments, and lobotomies. Bipolars can be the most fun, charismatic people that you will ever meet, but if they are going through one of their manic/depressive phases, the other people around them can feel like they’ve been hit by a train, even starting to question their own sanity—Am I going crazy, or…?

Watching the first part of the movie Silver Linings Playbook, I was very uncomfortable because it follows the main character Pat going through a manic phase, and I guess it just hit too close to home. The movie opens with Pat (Bradley Cooper) repeating his mantra to himself, “Excelsior!” He’s locked up in a mental institution after experiencing a psychotic break. Eight months earlier, Pat had come home from his teaching job to find his wife exchanging sexual favors in the shower with another teacher, who Pat then proceeded to beat the shit out of, almost killing him. The courts gave him two choices: psych unit or jail.

Pat’s mother decides to spring him for the holidays, without consulting anybody else, and once Pat is home, it’s easy to see where the bipolar gene comes from. His dad, also named Pat (Robert De Niro), has to be dancing on the edge of the illness. He’s obsessed with the Philadelphia Eagles and has little rituals associated with the team such as holding onto an Eagles handkerchief and assigning “lucky” people to hold the remote control while a game is playing. He’s also convinced that Pat Jr. has serious magic and is constantly trying to get his son to watch games with him, assured that if he is there, his team will win.

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Pat is trying to get his life together while back home with his parents, but his unmedicated mania keeps getting the cops called to the house. His wife has a restraining order against him, but Pat has made her into his holy grail. His obsessions all turn toward winning her back, which is a bit difficult when he has to always maintain a distance of five hundred feet. Leave it to a manic depressive to find a way, though.

In his quest to get his wife back, Pat sets up a dinner date with an old friend and his wife Veronica, where he’s introduced to Veronica’s sister Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who has her own issues. They immediately bond over the meds they’ve been on and their side effects, and it’s hilarious watching this play out over the dinner table, where the normals are the ones left feeling weird and left out while the loonies laugh it up.

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This dinner scene also marks the turning point in the movie—shortly after, Pat starts taking his meds. He’s been resisting for so long because he says the drugs make him foggy and not sharp. But he can’t be arrested again if he wants to get back together with his wife. Also, Tiffany had offered to help reunite them if Pat will do one little favor for her, and he takes the bait. The relationship between these two not-quite-right people, Tiffany and Pat, make up the rest of the movie, and that’s what makes it shine.

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Cooper does fine as Pat, and I think he gives a realistic portrayal of a bipolar, based on the many I have known. I could feel my teeth grinding as he went on some of his rants in his early unmedicated state, but then rooted for him when he tried to restrain his unsavory impulses. The movie gets a little tense at times, but fellow mental patient Danny (Chris Tucker) makes well-timed appearances throughout, moving the story forward and bringing good comedy.

The real heart of the movie is Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany. When she comes on, the scenes just have a more realistic, authentic dimension to them—she has a Streepish quality to her acting and presents a character with so many facets to her personality, showing vulnerability, sexiness, a tendency toward self-destruction, and great comedic instincts. There’s one scene—probably the one that an audience at the Cannes Film Festival rose and gave a spontaneous ovation to—where she interrupts Pat’s family arguing during what looks to be their downfall. The outcome looks bleak, but by the time Tiffany is done, she gets what she wants, as well as taking a crazy scheme and making it even more bizarre, all while making the family love her. And the audience too. That’s some pretty genius acting and somewhat bipolar, I think.