What are the ingredients for promoting mental health awareness in film? Silver Linings Playbook seems to have gotten some of them right: a nuanced, sensitive portrayal of bipolar disorder by People Magazine's "Sexiest Man Alive" (Bradley Cooper); a well-paced script mixing comedy and drama in perfect proportions; and a wonderfully talented all-star cast.
This dramedy (taken from a first novel by Matthew Quick) begins when Pat Solitano Jr. (Bradley Cooper) is released from a Baltimore mental hospital after an eight month stay to return home to his quirky parents in Philadelphia, Pat Sr. (Robert DeNiro) and Dolores (Jacki Weaver).
Unfortunately, Pat has been "cheeking" (not swallowing) his psychotropic medicine at the hospital and is still suffering from the same symptoms that led to his hospitalization and estrangement from his wife. She has obtained an order of protection from the court to keep him away from her.
Pat Sr. is an over-the-top, fanatical Philadelphia Eagles fan and a compulsive bettor to boot. Like most families, Pat Jr.'s loving parents are at a loss in managing an untreated serious mental illness at home. Their now unemployed son makes regular visits to his psychiatrist, Dr. Patel (Anupam Kher), who uses the tools at his disposal, a combination of medication and supportive therapy, to treat his patient until he gets ensnarled in his own case of Eagles mania.
The movie is an unconventional love story. Pat finds a kindred spirit in Tiffany Maxwell (Jennifer Lawrence), another odd duck who has been traumatized by the death of her husband. She's become promiscuous and appears to have a host of personality problems that were probably long-standing. The two conjure up an unlikely scheme to win back Pat's wife and that's when the dramady ends and the movie takes a strictly comedic turn that veers in another direction.
In terms of promoting mental health awareness, the last third of the movie was disappointing. Much like A Beautiful Mind, the ending of Silver Linings Playbook implies that love can transcend mental illness. This is where the movie does a disservice to its audience and oversimplifies the complexity of mental illness and the path to recovery. But the contrived happy ending does allow the audience to leave the theater feeling good and, perhaps, in the mood to talk about the real challenges posed by serious mental disorders.