Silver Linings Playbook has, rightfully, received much praise for its superb, nuanced acting and its sensitive, engaging portrayal of mental illness. The film follows Pat, a 35-year-old man (Bradley Cooper) with bipolar disorder, as he returns home to live with his parents following an eight-month court-mandated hospitalization. Pat is desperate to reconnect with his estranged wife, but meets and forms a complicated relationship with Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a woman with her own emotional issues.
‘SLP’ was nominated in all seven major Oscar categories, including picture, director, adapted screenplay and all four acting categories; it was the first film in more than 30 years to achieve that distinction. Jennifer Lawrence, the lead actress, won an Oscar, Golden Globe and SAG award for her stellar performance. The film also garnered praise from the mental health community. Katrina Gay, Director of Communications at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the film: “Making a film about mental illness is tricky: It can sensationalize, trivialize or exploit it…. But Silver Linings Playbook not only entertains us, it shows us how alike we all really are. The characters are quirky and likable. This film allows the audience to relate to the characters and the story. It’s way more effective than a campaign or banner project.” To see more click here.
Despite these accolades, I had my doubts. Most portrayals of mental illness in popular film/TV/media are uninformed and stigmatizing. I find romantic comedies formulaic and anti-feminist. (I was the person you heard gagging in the theatre when Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) proclaimed his love for Dorothy (Renée Zellweger) with the now famous line, “You complete me.”) To my delight, director David O. Russell and his cast got it (largely) right. To my surprise, the film also prompts us to critically examine our limited—and limiting—definitions of masculinity and femininity.
Bitch Flicks blogger Stephanie Rogers notes the film takes, “…a subtle jab at the cult of masculinity in America. The conflicts in the film are often caused by male anger and aggression, and several scenes even conclude with male violence—like when Pat’s rage fit with his dad leads him to (albeit accidentally) hit his mother in the face, or when he throws a book through a window because he hates the ending… The film makes it perfectly clear that this style of hyper masculine conflict resolution ain’t getting anybody anywhere.” Check out this cool site here.
The film also takes on “slut-shaming”. In a flashback scene, Pat comes home from work to find his wife having sex with another man in the shower. Pat responds by almost killing the man, an act which ultimately leads to Pat’s hospitalization. (Providing yet another example of how the film calls out male violence.) Despite her infidelity, Pat loves his wife and she is never vilified for the affair. Additionally, Tiffany—who readily admits to having had and enjoyed sex with both men and women—is labeled a slut by Pat, his family, and everyone else who is keeping score. Rather than apologizing for or rationalizing her sexual history, Tiffany owns it: “There’s always going to be a part of me that’s sloppy and dirty, but I like that, with all the other parts of myself. Can you say the same about yourself?” Bitch Flicks blogger Stephanie Rogers writes, “In an industry where being the ‘promiscuous girl’ is synonymous with ‘one who dies first’, this kind of rhetoric is revolutionary.”
Let’s hope so.
Beth-Anne Vieira is the Assistant Director of Health Services, Health Education & Promotion at UMass Dartmouth. In her free time she and her husband are raising two feminist sons. She enjoys reading, baking, pinning, and dreams one day of writing a book.