So the other day I got advance tickets to see this movie, The Silver Linings Playbook, about which there is already apparently Oscar buzz. It's got pretty people in it, and also Robert DeNiro, and it's supposed to be a sensitive yet humorous love story about mentally ill people. Before it gets a wide release, I'd like to go on record as saying that that's pretty much a bunch of horse hockey. I'd like to go on record as a bona fide mentally ill person saying that. So when you pay to see it you'll be sitting there thinking, "Damn, why didn't I listen to Eyeteeth?"
Now, I'm not going to spoil anything -- I can't, because this is a movie that spoils itself within about ten minutes. There's a beautiful straight white man and a beautiful straight white woman, and as soon as they're both on screen together it's obvious what's going to happen. In fact, it's so obvious that even the screenwriters realized it, and did their best to create conflict with a handful of subplots and cul-de-sacs thrown in like sand to make the wheels of the plot catch and move the story forward. That's my narrative objection, and OK, fair enough, but what about my objection as a pill-popping crazy person? Actually, that's a narrative objection too, because the biggest problem with this film is that it's hypocritical, and hypocrisy is a narrative problem as well as a moral one. Basically, the movie wants us to take its hero Pat (Bradley Cooper) seriously because he's crazy, and being crazy is a serious problem, but it also wants us to sympathize with him, and it's afraid we won't sympathize with a genuinely crazy person. So his symptoms fluctuate according to what the plot requires: whether Pat is literally paranoid, or just kind of sensitive, seems to depend on which heartstring the screenwriters are trying to yank in a particular scene. And when he does exhibit some of the frightening behavior for which he was institutionalized, there's never any real consequence for it. His parents, with whom he lives, put up with his intrusive manic outbursts; the police tell him politely to stop violating the terms of the restraining order his wife has placed on him; when he loses his temper and joins a fight at a football stadium, he somehow doesn't get arrested. It's as if the other characters know, just like us, that this is a Hollywood film, and that Pat's going to get his shit together within 122 minutes. This is Hollywood mental illness, which goes away when you face your responsibilities. Unless you're one of the real crazies, the chronic ones, at whom the movie glances only to play for laughs.
Speaking of Hollywood mental illness, if Pat's got the male version, ethereally pretty love interest Tiffany (Jennifer Laurence) has the female version, which is to say, she has the condition that presents as sassy talk and sexual promiscuity. (It's diagnostic code 292.9 in the DSM-IV, I believe.) I think we're supposed to like her for these qualities. We're clearly supposed to like her for some reason. We're supposed to like Pat too, even though he's just rude and unpleasant when he's not being actively terrifying. (Tiffany is rude and unpleasant too, but at least there isn't a scene that's supposed to be funny in which she rips up a psychiatrist's waiting room.) Maybe we're just supposed to like them because they're pretty. Because that's the movie's ultimate message: it's OK to be crazy, or to be an asshole -- it's never really clear which Pat is, because of the movie's aforementioned hypocrisy -- as long as you look like an underwear model. (It helps, too, if your parents are rich and let you live in their place rent-free while you get your life in order. Tiffany lives in her parents' garage, which she's had fitted with oak floors. I bet my mental illness would improve a lot too if I had the wherewithal to do stuff like that despite not having a job.)
The movie gets a couple of points for making therapy and medication key to Pat's recovery, but loses one of them again because he seems to respond to that medication immediately, with no side effects, despite saying at the beginning that he doesn't want to take it because it makes him bloated and sluggish. No, getting well can't be a hard choice or take a long time. We've only got 122 minutes, and we need you to be completely well and happy by the end. Free of whatever we couldn't quite make up our minds was wrong with you.
I'd like to see the real version of this story, where Pat's medication makes him gain eighty pounds and he spends most of his time crying, and neither he nor Jennifer Laurence bathes very much. Where the incident that got him institutionalized isn't carefully crafted to make us think we might have done the same thing in his place, so we don't even have to think of him as crazy if that idea makes us uncomfortable. Where the focus is shifted away from the father with undiagnosed OCD to the mother who has spent most of her life appeasing men with untreated mental illnesses. Where the characters aren't all rich. Where, in short, the mental illness is actual mental illness and not an inconvenience smothered under upper-middle-class privilege like a pea under feather mattresses.
This was a fancy film showing at MoMA, so the director was there to speak afterward. He said that the film was important to him because his son had struggled with "that." This is pretty much the movie about mental illness you could expect to get from a guy who can't bring himself to say "mental illness."