Betting Against the House
Main Cast: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro
Director: David O. Russell
People don’t want to think about mental illness. When it’s portrayed on film it’s either as a life ending condition that leaves people muttering on the street or as a set of comical neuroses. Rarely does a film tackle the real world challenges of a serious but manageable mental illness and the havoc it can wreak on the sufferer, family and friends. Even more seldom do we see a compassionate portrayal with some levity and some really likable characters. Welcome to Silver Linings Playbook.
Based on the novel by Matthew Quick (which you can conveniently hop over to Amazon and purchase below) Silver Linings Playbook is the story of Patrick (Bradley Cooper). As we enter his story, Patrick is being released from a mental hospital to which he was committed in order to prevent incarceration after delivering a brutal beating to the man sleeping with his wife. Turns out that Patrick had undiagnosed bipolar disorder – that he made it to adulthood before his first major brush with the law is pretty amazing.
Patrick is clearly manic when we meet him. He isn’t taking his medication (despite all his assurances otherwise) and is fixated on reuniting with his wife, getting in shape and seeing the silver lining in any and all situations. As he tries to connect with his old world he discovers that people are afraid of him – he’s welcomed with wary arms at best. But he has one friend – Ronnie (John Ortiz). Ronnie is not only glad to see him, but welcomes him back into life with gusto. His wife (Julia Stiles) is not a big Patrick fan, but is willing to give him a chance, even going so far as to introduce him to her sister, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). Tiffany has her own set of emotional problems, including dealing with the death of her husband.
Patrick is also dealing with his parents, with whom he is living (that’s the deal). His father (Robert DeNiro) and mother (Jacki Weaver) bear the brunt of Patrick’s illness. It is they who are there when he has a delusional manic episode in the middle of the night, when he becomes violent, when his silver linings are nowhere to be found. His father has plenty of eccentricities himself – delusional superstitions, irrational anger and near mania. It’s clear that this particular apple did not fall far from the tree. Patrick’s older brother Jake (Shea Whigham) was spared the illness, but definitely not the effects it has had on the family.
The film is really not just about Patrick, it’s about Patrick and Tiffany as they try and hold themselves – and each other – together. It’s a melding of two sets of mental illness, two people who understand what it’s like to be different and damaged and struggling. They have separate, and very different, issues, but the distance they feel from others is the same. The knowing that the world sees them as frightening, or easy prey, or sad victims. We walk with them as they try to heal, or at least come to some sort of stable and controlled equilibrium, and form new relationships with their families, friends and each other. We also watch as these families truly deal, probably for the first time, with the seriousness of their loved ones illnesses. It isn’t an easy road and we see how hard Patrick tries and how often he fails in his attempts to “be better”. His control at first is slippery and tenuous, dependent on the external world – a world which fails him badly time and again. Only as he gains some perspective for himself (and takes his medication) does he begin to interact in a way that society deems acceptable. He isn’t a bad guy, but he does have a bad illness.
Cooper and Lawrence are both fabulous. Just fabulous. Cooper is so good looking it can be hard to take him seriously as a damaged, struggling man. But he does a great job as Patrick – vulnerable and unstable and so very determined to be optimistic, despite having so little control. He spends most of the movie in a giant sweatsuit covered by a garbage bag – don’t be looking for ab shots. A great decision by director David O. Russell to take some of the playboy charm out of the character. Jennifer Lawrence is so sweet and vulnerable – except when she’s mean and manipulative. She’s hurt and suffering and wasn’t stable before her life turned upside down. She wants desperately to connect with someone and to her, Patrick looks like a good prospect. In great contrast to Cooper, Lawrence spends a great deal of time exposing mid-section, cleavage and other bodily assets. It isn’t gratuitous, it’s part of the character and how her illness manifests. But I doubt the men in the audience will mind – she’s an adorable girl.
Nearly stealing the show (and that’s hard when the leads are so good) is Robert DeNiro as Patrick’s gambling, OCD, loving and deeply flawed father. I haven’t enjoyed DeNiro in a role this much in many, many years. His character is gruff and sweet and delusional and supportive. It’s a great performance – DeNiro makes this man so much more than just The Father. His interactions with Lawrence are also priceless.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Silver Linings Playbook – much more than I anticipated. I’m not surprised by its numerous award nominations or Jennifer Lawrence’s Golden Globe win for Best Actress. It isn’t an epic film, and there’s certainly a predictable element to how the main plot point plays out, but it’s heartfelt and lovely all the same. 4 ½ stars out of 5 and highly recommended.
You can usually find Sue watching dysfunctional family indie dramas in order to make her own household seem normal. She is the Editorial Manager at Silver Beacon Marketing and an aspiring Crazy Cat Lady.