Sunday, July 31, 2016

What Silver Linings Playbook is Really About

Tiffany confronts Pat at her sister's dinner when she realizes she's in a sea of bullshit. 
Marketed as a romantic comedy, by the rogue director David O. Russell, that should be a clue right there. He's not exactly a by-the-numbers filmmaker. This is definitely his crowning achievement even though I absolutely love I Heart Huckabees. This might be a little difficult for me to explain because I can relate to a lot of it but here we go. 
Set in Philadelphia, a place not exactly known for dealing with mental illness by any other means than a stigma, and coming from LA where everyone is therapy'd out to the point of paralysis, I saw the script as exactly what it was. Two brilliant actors play the two 'romantic leads', who meet at first, hate each other and by the end of the movie they're in love. Common rom com trope yes? But that's not the point of the film. 
Woody Allen might stick his neuroses in every single film he directs, but those are sadly a bit dated when people were still on Judy Garland cocktails and everything was a bit Valley of the Dolls. It was a very black and white time. Either you were nuts, or you were sane, and if you were the former you had all the pills in the world to choose from, which usually made things worse. Perhaps the last film that accurately portrayed mental illness was One Flew Over a Cuckoo's Nest, which is literally set in the insane asylum, ironically where the protagonist (Jack Nicholson) is pretending to be crazy to do time in an asylum rather than prison. There you have the schism between the 'sane' and the 'insane'. Still a bit black and white, but so full of pathos and honesty, that it still holds up today. 

For these two, the best type of therapy is not in a doctor's office. 
Let's examine Silver Linings because its a film full of grey areas, and it's in those that we figure out what the movie is actually about. Pat (Bradley Cooper) is just getting out of the looney bin after 8 months because he assaulted the man screwing his wife. He's now obsessed with being 'sane' and finding a silver lining, and getting his life back together, which in itself are all insane notions considering that a psychotic break usually does not allow you to go back to everything just as it used to be. I had a friend like that. No names, but she thought she saw the light, and because she did her Master's degree in Social Work made it her mediocre mission to chain-smoke a pack a day, rearrange the furniture in her Hollywood apartment literally every single day (we were living together at the time) to keep herself busy so that she wouldn't think about drinking or getting back with her ex-boyfriend. She loved to analyze people and I was definitely one of her guinea pigs. I hated it. I hate being mentally dissected. It's bullshit. 
As I said before, people in LA are therapy'd out, so I was able to even prompt my shrink about what I thought was going on before he could even get it out. That's why I identify with the Jennifer Lawrence's character. Tiffany is a girl with a broken wing (I think that line is actually used verbatim in the film), who's husband just died, but that's not why she's considered crazy. On the surface she's actually probably the smarter of the two. Pat (Cooper) always loves to point out how she misbehaves or behaves in means that are not good 'social skills', and she immediately calls him on his bullshit. 'You say more inappropriate things than appropriate things' is one of her more famous lines. The most important difference between the two of them; both experienced trauma leading to a psychotic break, and Jennifer is the one who moved on, while Bradley Cooper still hasn't, and is completely obsessed with the past. Backstory: Tiffany's husband died; a cop in the line of duty. After which she got fired from her job for 'sleeping with the entire office'. Pat still judges her, because he thinks that he once was crazy and now he's absolutely fine. Tiffany sees this and says 'you think I'm crazier than you'. Perfect. Who is he to judge? 

'You're afraid to be alive! You're a hypocrite!' 
There's a cute exchange when they talk about all the pills that they are on and don't take any longer, but who isn't on some kind of shit these days; does that make us all crazy? Didn't you ever read 'Prozac Nation'?
The plot is in essence irrelevant. It's about two people realizing that they will never be perfect and never find the life that they once had, and the 2 hour run-time of quippy exchanges, completely blowouts, and epic shutdowns illustrates that crazy is a grey area. 
What gets me the most is how much Pat judges everyone (with the exception of Chris Tucker's character). He even gets on his dad (Robert De Niro) about being OCD, like most of us aren't. In Philly, where regularly going to a therapist is still considered taboo, he is very uncomfortable in his current state. Tiffany basically tells him the truth, it's one of the greatest Lear-esque monologues in film history. 'I opened up to you and you judged me, you're afraid to be alive, you're a hypocrite, you're an asshole'. All of these things true. 
What's most telling about this movie is that it's not romantic at all, though both main characters have great chemistry and are very attractive. You know they are going to end up together; you just do. The way they get there is a brilliant examination of life in a black and white world of sane and insane, the pitfalls and the highs and lows that it brings. At least Tiffany is self-aware. Pat eventually comes around, and only then can they be together. There is no such thing as normal behavior, and there is actually no such thing as normal. Sorry if that's crushing some of you right now, it's just the truth. And I guess Pat was right in trying to overcome his 'mental illness' by finding that damn silver lining he keeps referring to, while Tiffany was right to hate him for his hypocrisy. 
The actual romantic angle only manifests itself in the last 15 minutes of the film, because it's in the backseat for most of it.
The only rom-com element in this movie is when both Pat and Tiffany realize that (excuse the cliché) they are not perfect or normal, but they are perfect for each other. And the normalcy that they find is not a normal that is permanent or without its haptic disorders, but its theirs and they are better confronting their demons together. This sounds like love conquers all and that mental illness can be overcome by finding someone just as or even more fucked up than you, but it's not. For everything that happens between the two, it is never a co-dependent relationship and (again, excuse the cliché) they are only able to move on when they confront everything that has brought them to the mental state that they are currently living and allowing themselves to admit that they are not in fact normal, and perhaps that's actually the best thing that could happen to them.

Below: A making-of featurette. 

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