The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Taking out the drama of mental illness

with 18 comments

silver linings playbookThere was a time when we locked up people with mental disorders in institutions well out of the city so that nobody risked bumping into them by accident. It seems like a hundred years ago, but in fact it’s only been a couple of decades, if even so long.

It’s hard to believe it when you look around and see how things have changed. The covers of gossip magazines is one example. There you can see celebrities openly talk about various issues. Depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolarity – everyone seems to have something. They talk about it openly, without any embarrassment at all, which is a great thing. Not only does it help spreading awareness and acceptance: it’s also a great deal more interesting to read those stories than to learn about how they spoil their Chihuahuas.

The change in movies
And as society changes, so do the movies, though I’m not sure of which came first. Did One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest change psychiatry or was it the result of an already on-going change? I hope for the former, that the movie made a change. Maybe I’m hopelessly romantic in my view on the power of arts, but I want to believe that they help us to come to come to insights and eventually make the world to a better place to live in.

It has been a gradual development and you don’t need to go all that far back in time to see a difference. Take Betty Blue for instance, the French romantic drama that was a mega hit in the middle of the 80s. [spoiler warning] When the hot manic pixie girl turned out to be a bi-polar borderline personality, the solution in the movie was to let the guy kill her with a cushion, and then follow up by writing a novel about her. [end of spoiler].  I remember it as being one of the best movies I ever had seen. I haven’t dared to revisit it since, but when I think back at it, it strikes me that I probably would find it dated – not only in its view on women, but also in the way it relates to those diagnoses.

Getting it right
Over the last few years I’ve learned more about mental illness than I ever thought I would or wanted to. It hasn’t been my own experiences, but I have very close friends, whose entire life has taken a new direction because of it.

Being open about everything, I’ve seen everything they’ve been through – the ups and downs and their encounters with the healthcare. It was with all of this in my backhead that I approached Silver Linings Playbook, wondering if they would make a better picture of mental illness this time, getting it “right”, or at least as somewhere close to “right

After watching it, I’m leaning towards answering the question with a “yes”. While it’s clearly a fictional story and not a documentary (for instance I doubt that a patient and a psychiatrist would connect in the way the movie suggests), there are several things about it that I really like.

I love how it balances drama, romance and comedy.  It’s serious enough to convey something of what you go through when you get metal illness close to you. At the same time it’s lightweight enough to provide an enjoyable night at the movies for a broad audience.

Taking out the drama
Silver Linings Playbook does for mental illness what 50/50 did for cancer. It helps people to recognize that issues like this exist and that you’re allowed not only to talk about them, but also – which is important – laugh at them. If there was anything that has helped my friends to manage through all the rough times, it’s been their ability to see the humour in sometimes absurd situations.

I also love how it takes out the drama of mental illness. This isn’t a binary thing, where you’re either “normal” or “crazy” but nothing in between. The scale is floating and all of us can appear somewhere on it, in places that can very over lifetime.

Many, many more people than you imagine have issues. And some of them can be helped by medication.

In Sweden, Silver Linings Playbook has been marketed like a rom-com. While it does use a few typical rom-com clichés, particularly towards the end, I think the label is a little bit misleading. But again: if it can help more people to find their way to watch it than otherwise, I won’t argue against it. It deserves an audience and I’m happy for it being so successful.

We haven’t yet overcome all prejudices against mental illness. I think most of us still would find it easier talk about a broken leg than about a mental breakdown. But it’s getting better. We’re getting there. Year by year, movie by movie.

Silver Linings Playbook (David. O. Russell, US 2012) My rating: 4/5

Written by Jessica

March 19, 2013 at 9:04 pm

18 Responses

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  1. Excellent write-up once again. I’ve been following your posts for several months now, always insightful.

    I’m all up for more discussion on mental illness and making it a more “common” thing, meaning that it would be easier for people to talk about it. I don’t know what the fuss is about, no one’s normal, everyone’s weird in some way.

    This film doesn’t enhance that kind of discussion, though, as it is depicted as funny and ridiculous. It is taken a bit too over the top and all the “normal” people will regard them as nuts and not as normal as the majority of the human population. So most will go see the film and have a good laugh and leave it at that.

    It’s a solid film, though.

    A Casual Film Buff

    March 19, 2013 at 10:12 pm

    • Hey there! Welcome out from the shadows and thank you for your kind Words! Perhaps I’m reading more intoit than there is and perhaps you’re right that people who have no idea about mental illness won’t see anything beyond the laughs. I don’t know. For me it worked. It really felt as if the laughs there were, were WITH the “nutty” couple and not from a superior point of view or behind their backs.


      March 20, 2013 at 9:48 pm

  2. It’s weird: mental illness is an enormous part of my life yet I didn’t even think about it when watching Silver Linings. I simply didn’t see it because other things shaded it. I guess I should watch it again.

    Interesting review, though. And I like the comparison to 50/50 – incredibly true.


    March 19, 2013 at 11:53 pm

    • Hm. Strange. I found this much more of a serious drama about mental illness than the rom-com it’s marketed as. Thank you for your kind words!


      March 20, 2013 at 9:54 pm

  3. Will not likely be able to see this for some long while yet, but by the sounds of it I will either love it or hate it. I find it a tricky subject to watch.

    For what it is worth, the best depiction I have seen of mental illness recently was in an episode of Lewis (TV crime drama, sequel series to Inspector Morse) called “And the Moonbeams Kiss the Sea”. (IMDB:

    As to speaking out about – well, occasionally I have to train new staff in my workplace. I have made a habit of mentioning my condition to them – and to date no one has a clue what I am talking about. Small sample size of course, but generally the folks are in their early 20s. I would say they are ignorant but that is too harsh a word, innocently oblivious might be a better description. We have come a very long way, and that should be celebrated, but there is still so very far to go.


    March 20, 2013 at 12:36 am

    • Is the glass half full or half empty, that’s the question? It’s true that we’re far from a situation where mental illness is as well known and free from any kind of charge as a cold. But I still think there’s a big difference to how it used to be. Let’s hope that this good development continues!

      I can’t guarantee the Movie will work for you. But here’s to the hope that it will! Cheers!


      March 20, 2013 at 10:02 pm

  4. “This isn’t a binary thing, where you’re either “normal” or “crazy” but nothing in between. The scale is floating and all of us can appear somewhere on it, in places that can very over lifetime.”

    Astute observation, as usual. Glad you finally got to see this one and glad to see you enjoyed it. A really special film.


    March 20, 2013 at 2:16 am

    • Thank you Nick! I had to wait for a long time before it opened in Sweden and after watching it, it took a while before I had time to do my write-up. Anyway: I’ve seen it now and I think it will appear somewhere on my list towards the end of the year. Probably not in my top 20, but still at an honorable position.


      March 20, 2013 at 10:04 pm

  5. Great write up Jessica. SLP was marketed in the UK as a rom-com too, hence the little tiny type of the word ‘playbook’ on all the posters. Sad really as I’m sure it will have put many people off. It’s not an autobiographical book as far as I’m away but the film’s director does have a son with mental illness and so it’s a very personal film for him, which I think really comes across in the way he’s managed to get such amazing performances from all the actors. They clearly love the film and I’ve seen many of them, including Bobby De Niro break down in tears when talking about it.

    • Thanks Terry! I agree that there was great acting througout the film, and not just Lawerence who got the statue. I liked Cooper’s performance as much or even more. And as you point out: lot of good side characters as well.

      Marketing of movies is clearly not to be trusted!


      March 20, 2013 at 10:09 pm

  6. Glad to hear you enjoyed this one Jessica. I didn’t expect very much from it as in not a rom-com fan. But like you say, it isn’t that. It has shades of it but otherwise it’s a perfectly pitched exploration of mental health and obsessional behaviour. I loved it and every one of the performers. One if the years biggest surprises for me… 4.5/5

    Mark Walker

    March 20, 2013 at 4:47 pm

    • Thanks Mark! Onca again it turns out that we’re on the same side. Not that I’m surprised anymore. 😉


      March 20, 2013 at 10:12 pm

      • Haha! Yeah, it seems we’re on the same page most of the time. The surprise element is fast fading. 😉

        Mark Walker

        March 20, 2013 at 10:33 pm

  7. […] reckoned Silver Linings Playbook took the drama out of mental illness in The Velvet […]

  8. […] Taking out the drama of mental illness […]

  9. Great analysis. Loved Silver Linings Playbook and 50/50.


    May 17, 2013 at 9:22 am

  10. […] Silver Linings Playbook This film did for mental illness what 50/50 did for cancer: took a bit of the drama out of it with humour. […]

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