Let’s Stop Pretending “Silver Linings Playbook” Did Anything for Mental Illness Advocacy

12 Sep

I’m probably a little late to this party, but bear with me; I much prefer TV to movies. I only recently watched “Silver Linings Playbook” despite several recommendations from friends. Even my parents liked it. It isn’t fundamentally a bad film. It kept me interested for the most part, but this isn’t a film review, so bear with me.

silver linings playbook

There’s faux-handwritten text on the cover. That’s how you know it’s edgy.

Now, as someone formally diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and depression, I know firsthand that sometimes the only way to deal with bad things in your life is to laugh at them. I’m not opposed to injecting stories of mental crises with a healthy dose of humor. Elizabeth Wurtzel pulls this off perfectly in her memoir, “Prozac Nation” and Winona Ryder plays Susanna Kaysen in “Girl, Interrupted” flawlessly. I related so well to them. They had no qualms with getting into the nuts and bolts of crushing depression and frustration. I get that sentiment, really. It doesn’t seem much fun when you run out of your medication (which I affectionately have dubbed my “crazy pills”) and end up somewhere between blind rage and foggy existential crisis for a couple of days, but hey, everyone has their coping mechanism of choice. Mental illnesses are fucking terrible. I could get super melodramatic and talk about how they ruin my relationships, my work, my personality, etc, but at the end of the day, I find things to laugh about. C’est la vie, you know?

But “Silver Linings Playbook” made me feel like shit.

Neither Bradley Cooper nor Jennifer Lawrence have any personal experience with mental illness. Director David O. Russell has said that his son and his friend deal with bipolar. They may have someone in their life with a mental illness, but you don’t really know depression until you know depression. Being sad is one thing, being incapacitated by your own mind is another thing entirely.  Cooper’s character Pat meets Lawrence’s character Tiffany, reeling from the loss of her husband (and dealing with it by slutting around – how original for a female lead, no?) and they just magically rom-com it up to live crazily ever after. Pat takes his medication and he miraculously stops showing his outward symptoms. Some dancing and football betting happens, and the movie ends with Pat and Tiffany snuggled up on the couch, all smiles. Pat finds his “silver lining” and you’re left thinking that perhaps he’s blissfully free of his bipolar disorder, Tiffany is over her husband’s death, and you can probably imagine a sequel where they have beautiful children and all that shit.

slp2

In all fairness, she was quite attractive in this flick.

Why did this movie make me feel like shit you ask? It reinforces the idea that psychopharma is some magical cure-all. Sure, my Zoloft helps me in every aspect of my life, but I don’t magically become a functioning person just from taking it. Mental illness treatment takes effort. Not everyone who has bipolar, or any mental illness for that matter, snaps and becomes violent. “Silver Linings Playbook” also reinforces this concept; Pat checks into a hospital after beating the man his wife was having an affair with. With the debate on gun control moving in such a direction that stigmatizes those with a history of psychiatric issues, this is no bueno. Relationships are hard to begin with, so when both parties have some type of mental disorder, shit gets bad. Not rom-com bad like SLP would have us believe either. Watching your partner lose their shit, or losing your own shit and knowing that they can’t help you is completely devastating. I realize that everyone’s experience is different, but come on, no relationship is like a movie. Not to mention that mental illnesses are genetic; Pat and Tiffany’s hypothetical sitcom family probably wouldn’t be quite so idyllic in real life. Not to mention that the movie did little to normalize mental illnesses, the characters’ issues become their character, not the other way around. The first thing these two talk about is the various psychopharma they’ve taken, for god’s sake. I almost felt like I had been doing mental illness wrong with the way that Pat and Tiffany seemed to magically get it together when they met, until I reminded myself that this is just a movie.

Cooper and Lawrence have both made some comments about mental illness advocacy since making the film, which is nice, but mental illnesses are still heavily stigmatized and no movie is going to change that anytime soon. Looking for the silver lining in every situation is solid advice for anyone, regardless of their mental state, but I don’t take lightly to mental illnesses being taken lightly.

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3 Responses to “Let’s Stop Pretending “Silver Linings Playbook” Did Anything for Mental Illness Advocacy”

  1. you biggest critic September 23, 2013 at 2:29 pm #

    Lets stop pretending that any movie does anything for any topic that it tries to take on. Is college life really like “Animal House?” (Don’t answer that) Is every murder solved in 2 hours? Don’t even get me started with the technical stuff from “Backdraft” or “Ladder 49.” (You know I can) Take it for what it is, just a fantasy world. Did you question how fast those boarding school kids can really fly on a broomstick and score a goal? (not even going to try to spell it) Fantasy, pure and simple.

    We tend to criticize movies and TV when we are personally affected by the topics. Isn’t this why you are more interested in what is really going on in the world?

    • Juliana Perciavalle September 23, 2013 at 2:30 pm #

      Good point. My problem isn’t that the movie itself dramatizes mental illnesses (I mentioned that I enjoyed it for what it was), it was that everyone thought it was this huge breakthrough in mental illness acceptance.

      • your biggest critic September 23, 2013 at 2:32 pm #

        That’s the problem with all movies

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