I finally got around to watching the comedy-drama Silver Linings Playbook the other night. The film’s hero, Patrick Solitano, is a sufferer of bipolar whose problems stem from his initial refusal to take medication. I’m not exactly the first person to watch it through the lens of mental illness, and to be judging it poorly on its portrayal. Yet it’s been critically acclaimed and has received a huge number of accolades, won Jennifer Lawrence an Oscar for Best Actress and and has a 92 per cent critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Actually, the parts of the film that did deal with mental illness weren’t uniformly terrible. If the humour is done in the right way (ie laughing with, not laughing at) the travails of trying different drugs and putting up with the side effects until the right drug is found can have a funny side. The ability to laugh at difficulties is an essential tool for getting through any chronic illness, and also a way of educating non-sufferers.
However, while Patrick and his potential romantic partner, Tiffany, initially toss drug names and their side effects at each other in a humorous way, once Patrick is resigned to taking his meds the film as a whole simply forgets that both of them are on drugs. There are no more side effects, no having to get off one drug and try another, just two people trying to be human. Which is fair enough, but the loss of drugs from the narrative, which implied that both characters were on stable regimes that enabled them to enjoy complete sanity, made me wonder whether the film had been funded by a drug company.
But I don’t want to give the impression that this was the sole thing wrong with Silver Linings. I wish. No, it was the script and the characters. There is a certain kind of Hollywood humour that consists of people starting off on a high register of emotional conflict, and staying there. Part of the humour in these films consists of people being rude and abusive to each other. This is the style of Judd Apatow, who directed and cowrote films like The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up. It has been hugely successful, so much so that other writers have adopted it (traces of this style can also be found in The United States of Tara).
This, sadly, is the style that dominates Silver Linings Playbook, courtesy of writer-director David O. Russell. Robbie Collin of the Daily Telegraph said there was ‘a tiring fruitlessness to the mayhem’ of the film, and I couldn’t agree more.
I didn’t entirely dislike the characters – there is something brooding and interesting behind Jennifer Lawrence’s Tiffany and she’s such a good actress she gives every character resonance – but the script makes her a lonely bad girl in a way that is cliched and boring.
But no movie experience is a complete waste of time. It was actually quite timely – well, spookily timely – sitting there and watching the hero deny his need for meds. I have just been going through the same thing – coming off Luvox because it had stopped working, trying to exercise to compensate. Then my back gave in on me and my mean sister told me that she had noticed I wouldn’t look at her.
So I did some googling and found an SSRI called Lexapro that seems to have fewer side effects than other SSRIs. I am seeing my doctor and hopefully getting a prescription when the surgery gets back from holidays next week. (Art imitates life, or is it the other way around?) I wish I could be confident of ending up as functional as Patrick is by the end of the film, but I fear that my experience with Luvox will be repeated with Lexapro and I’ll have to switch again. Watch this space ...