Mental illness is very tricky territory for entertainment productions. In fact, there are organizations (the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration or SAMHSA, among them) that award those that "contribute to the understanding of mental health and substance abuse," and call out those that don't. Surely Silver Linings Playbook will be up for one of SAMHSA's Voice Awards next year.
Both Pat Jr. and Tiffany are portrayed as complex, troubled souls, but, like the vast majority of Americans with mental illnesses, they also are regular people capable of getting help, having meaningful relationships and experiencing joy. And they're part of families we all know, that come in various shapes and sizes, and populate — with laughter and tears — our neighborhoods.
The performances here are all top-notch. De Niro is in fine form as a compassionate, funny, if manipulative, dad, who may have a few issues of his own. Weaver is fabulous, serving up "crabby snacks" and casseroles and trying to help her son out. Cooper isn't who you'd expect in this role, but he brings a freshness to it that helps save his character from utter darkness. And Lawrence is terrific — sexy, odd, smart, interesting and vulnerable.
According to news reports, much of the dialogue in the film was impromptu, urged on by director Russell, who hovered by his cast members during filming, suggesting lines and expressions and interactions. It worked. He made a movie that is a real portrait about a real family with real problems that's also entertaining. That is a rarity on the big screen these days. Be thankful that we have Silver Linings Playbook to go see over the holidays!