I knew it had something to do with football, featured Robert DeNiro, Bradley Cooper, and Jennifer Lawrence, and had received some rave reviews and even a few awards early in the season (pre-oscars). Other than that, I didn’t know much.
I certainly didn’t know that the film’s opening scenes would take place in a Baltimore psychiatric facility. Given work I had done both while volunteering in college at a state run hospital just outside of Philadelphia (where the rest of the movie takes place) and also as a full-time research coordinator in one of the most expensive private psychiatric treatment centers in the country, just outside of Boston, I might have reconsidered before choosing this as thing to see on a second date. However, it was her suggestion originally, and given my love for movies, I usually don’t turn down the opportunity to incorporate them into a date, especially when I don’t even have to suggest it.
However, in the end, the film lived up to expectations and didn’t confirm my initial fears that the film choice would drag down the evening, given what I know of the bleak and dreary settings of some psychiatric hospitals and their capacity to dampen moods.
Instead, David Russell’s adaptation of Matthew Quick’s novel (of the same name) uses the theme of mental illness to contrast and compare the two main characters (Bradley Cooper and Lawrence) as the attempt to both “out-crazy” one another, yet also maintain the mental stability high ground, in their developing friendship. Moreso, the theme of mental illness or “craziness,” appears to fascinate many of the so-called “sane” characters in the film, including a relentless student who repeatedly tries to interview and even catch on film some of the “bi-polar episodes,” and the co-workers of Cooper’s older brother, a well-meaning but overshadowing successful lawyer, who struggles to relate to his younger brother without bringing up areas in which he has “out-performed” him in some way or another.
In a way, I think Quick (though I haven’t yet read the book), but certainly Russell is attempting to point out the sometimes less than obvious, but certainly present mild “mental illnesses,” or at least psychiatric symptomatology that almost everyone experiences every so often, some more often than others. In Silver Linings, there’s Cooper’s father, played by De Niro, an aging bookie, who we learn has been permanently banned from the Eagles Stadium because of his violent outbursts and fights. Then, while he watches the games at home (not by choice) he engages in his “superstitions,” that border on obsessive-compulsive and even delusional when he believes (mistakenly as she later points out) that Cooper’s developing relationship with Lawrence has somehow thrown off the Eagles good luck. Then there is Cooper’s best friend Ronnie (played by John Ortiz), who struggles to deal with the increasing stress caused by a chaotic marriage, a newborn child, and increasing financial responsibilities, all of which he believes he can successfully cope with by going into his garage, listening to Metallica, and “breaking shit.”
Whether these other characters would actually meet any diagnostically significant criteria, at least as defined by the DSM or some other standard accepted within psychiatry, I don’t know. However, I think the film does a really nice job of pointing out that the individuals who have spent time in facilities, whether state-run or private, whether on a recommendation from friends, loved ones, or a doctor or by the mandate of a court system really aren’t that different from the rest of us when you can look past the the stigma and labels society likes to throw at them.
Regardless of how you feel about the social commentary on mental illness, this turned out to be a fine “date movie,” that handles some serious topics very nicely with both humor and grace.