Called a dramedy, or a quirky romcom, Silver Lining Playbook (nominated for Best Picture; Best Director (David O. Russell, The Fighter); Best Actor (Bradley Cooper, The Hangover); Best Actress (Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games); Best Supporting Actor (Robert De Niro); Best Supporting Actress (Jacki Weaver, Animal Kingdom) is based on a book of the same name by Matthew Quick, and it is very, very funny-- in a hmmm, more than ha ha, kind of way. Still, I laughed out loud, not the least when Patrizio Solitano, Jr’s (Bradley Cooper) psychiatrist Dr. Patel (Anupam Kher) tells him he needs “a strategy,” as if that, in and of itself, would help this man’s terribly chaotic life. (As a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst I have a bias for exploratory therapy and for relationship. Sure, discipline and will are components of success, but so is good enough parenting.) Pat needed not only advice and medication, but psychotherapy. (My psychiatrist- psychoanalyst friend with whom I saw the film also roared here with laughter. We both know that patients who seek mental health treatment for advice don’t need advice as much as they need to figure out why they can’t take the advice they have already been given.)
But Dr. Patel’s advice turns out to be the heart of Silver Lining Playbook, the playbook (in sports’ circles) being the strategy. Who’da thunk the strategy would be preparing for a dance competition and falling in love. What I like about this film is that the strategy, to survive this crazy curve ball life throws us, is that it takes a village, a team, family and friends, pulling for you, rooting for you, and strategizing, then, implementing with you, a plan.
I was especially taken with Jacki Weaver’s performance as Dolores Solitano, the perpetually worried-looking mother. Perhaps having a son who has bipolar disorder who was recently hospitalized for a violent loss of temper would make any mother walk on eggshells (as would the unpredictable violence of any loved one). I wondered to myself if Dolores herself had not always been anxious, from childhood unpredictability of her own, and how this anxiety might be communicated, day in and day out, to her sons from their infancy via affect mirroring (where infants, in imitating the facial expressions of their mothers, signal their brains to feel what the facial musculature indicates) or via a disorganized attachment of her own. Small children, too, need a strategy for coping with stress, and in the absence of a strategy -- because the parent as a safe haven is also the stressor, children do not know whether to approach for comfort or flee/freeze in alarm—a child becomes disorganized and disoriented, including moments of dissociation from the double bind. (Cooper, for example, in his confusion, pursues the very wife who betrayed him.)
There are many theories about the etiology of bipolar disorder, including the genetic. But should we muse psychoanalytic, I think Pat, perhaps having learned sadness and anxiousness from his mother’s style, coped with these unpleasant affects by their very opposite, manic grandiosity. (In my experience, bipolar adults have usually been the designated ‘savior’ of their distressed family, with grand expectations thrust upon their shoulders.This was not the case in the Solitano family, where the older brother was preferred, by the father, to be the achiever.) Bipolar Disorder or not, I wonder if Pat did not suffer with affective dysregulation. No matter. His taking his medications relieved his parents’ anxieties about him. Some in the mental health profession have accused Silver Lining Playbook of spouting love, in lieu of medications, as treatment of mental illness. Bipolar disorder definitely requires medication, but affect dysregulation (sometimes treated with meds until self regulation, through long term intensive psychotherapy dealing with attachment, relationship and improving a sense of self, is achieved) may find sufficiently reliable, accepting, soothing, and negotiated love lends itself to self regulation (I recall Tender Mercies). Besides, people, even with, maybe especially with, psychiatric illness do better with love.
Cooper is redeemed not only by chance, I mean dance, but by the love and support of family and friends. As ill-conceived as the help of his parents may be, their love and concern, dawning much like it does on the adult emerging fresh from adolescence, eventually shines through. Jacki Weaver is brilliant as the worried mother who indefatigably walks on eggshells trying not to set her son off into a manic episode. Jennifer Lawrence is as talented here as everywhere I’ve seen her, meeting, out of a desire for connectedness, Cooper’s craziness where she finds it. In this regard, she may have been the better therapist.
Like Django Unchained, Silver Lining Playbook, riffing on an unfunny subject (here, mental illness), is a black comedy of sorts, and most of the humor is fueled by disbelief about what the characters do next.