May 5, 2014

Follow the SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK for Better Living

The past week and a half has been - well - a bit wearing on me both physically and emotionally. It wasn't that C2E2, Windy City Pulp and Paper, or this past weekend's Joss Whedon event weren't enjoyable....but both weekends bookended an extremely emotionally trying week. Nothing that's worth disclosing in detail - just a series of events that resulted in the inevitable feeling that sometimes personal reinvention can be a greater challenge than seems necessary.

It's that tone and theme that permeates David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook , a film focusing on the efforts of a man (Bradley Cooper) recovering from mental illness ("undiagnosed bipolar") as he strikes up an unlikely friendship with a young woman (Jennifer Lawrence) while dealing with readjusting to "normal" life. Russell could have easily turned this film into a traditional "one-man-defies-the-odds" narrative, or even a "wacky-offbeat-romantic-comedy" narrative, but he doesn't. One of the things that Silver Linings Playbook gets so right is that it hits the right tone at the right time, and never feels false. Even Cooper's performance as Pat during a manic state never feels like obvious Oscar bait, pitched at an appropriate level. Although the story hits on the obvious beats, there's never a feeling of formula to the proceedings. (Ask nicely, and I can provide at least one example of how not to write a screenplay). Silver Linings Playbook is a film that makes the effort to ring true, and quite honestly, deserves kudos for being a sensitive, knowing film about two people moving through their experiences and breaking their self-imposed isolation....

My one major quibble with the DVD is, in fact, with one of the featurettes, whose title indicates that Silver Linings Playbook "started a movement". (Their words, not mine). As an advocate for destigmatizing mental illness and increased awareness of mental health issues, I find Silver Linings Playbook a very refreshing take on a person dealing with their condition - there's never forced melodrama, or a sense of impending tragedy - just the day-to-day maintanence and effort to move forward. However, this particular featurette seems needlessly self-congratulatory, as if somehow this movie resulted in a massive change in perspective. Cinema has plenty of examples of sensitive and hard-hitting portrayals of mental illness and addiction; Silver Linings Playbook is a great addition to that roster. However, it is a bit offensive to somehow suggest that one film - only a year and a half old - has made incredible impact on the field. (It also doesn't help that Dr. Oz seems to get more screen time than the spokesman from the American Psychiatric Association). But the film contains enough relatable elements that speak to anyone that it manages to humanize people suffering from bipolar disorder...and that is the primary strength of Silver Linings Playbook

Admittedly, I came to this film with a great deal of personal baggage - nothing too traumatic: mostly  some self-imposed isolation, working through employment issues, and some really awkward and uncomfortable feelings. (Sorry, no details - this isn't that kind of blog). But watching Silver Linings Playbook allowed me a kind of escapism by witnessing someone working through similar issues, and finding a kind of polite resolution. Sure, this isn't a gritty film about the reality of day-to-day living, but there's a strong sense of affirmation about living day to day with great personal issues - to handle the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune - that makes Silver Lining Playbook a kind of "feel good" movie for the rest of us.

Highly recommended

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