I think Silver Linings Playbook is unique in the way it approaches those with mental disorders. It is simultaneously sympathetic and truthful. It acknowledges the harm and disruptions that people like Pat (Bradley Cooper) and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) cause, without completely alienating them. For example, while beating a man within an inch of their life is not commendable, we understand that Pat was struggling with undiagnosed Bipolar disorder, as well as the fact that he walked in on his wife cheating on him with another man.
Bradley Cooper was able to play both the manic and depressive sides of bipolar disorder, but his manic side is what is present through most of the movie. The way he obsesses over getting his wife back, has abnormal sleep patterns, and is constantly distracted, redirecting his attention or the conversation, all show a picture of what it is like for him on a daily basis.
Pat then meets Tiffany, another emotionally scarred individual that lost her spouse (a cop that died). Tiffany has also become a destructive force, using sex and emotional manipulation to cope. When they first appear together at a dinner party for Tiffany’s sister and brother-in-law (a good friend of Pat’s), the two immediately play off one another in interesting ways. Both speak bluntly, without much thought to propriety or how it affects the other person until after they have spoken. One part in particular that stands out is when they discuss medicine. Pat has for the most part refused medicine, which is why his mood swings are still so difficult for him to control. This is partially paranoia, but as he and Tiffany point out the drugs also severely affect how they feel and think. They are taking mind altering drugs, but instead of trying to get high, it “flattens” them out. This creates an interesting dilemma. On the one hand, you feel as though they need their medication, but what if what they say is true? Do they really see things people that are ‘normal’ just can’t or won’t? I think the movie prods at this, but eventually abandons the idea.
This is not to say the movie abandons its main characters. In fact it is just the opposite. It is Tiffany and Pat – two supposedly destructive people – that unite their friends and family. When Pat’s father (played by Robert De Niro), who has issues of his own, loses a lot of money to his friend, Tiffany sets up a huge double or nothing wager to help him get his money back, but that means she and Pat have to score a 5 out of 10 at a major dance competition they are attending. While the plot itself sounds almost ridiculous it works well in the movie, and it has the added benefit of presenting a culmination of Pat and Tiffany’s time together. As they have worked on the dance, they have continued to make improvements in their own lives. Pat starts taking his medicine, and seems to calm down. He is confused about the feelings he has for Tiffany, which conflict with his drive to reunite with his wife. Eventually these two people discover that they have found someone who truly understands and loves them. It is a feel good story, but one that has some far reaching implications. To this day a stigma exists for those with mental disorders. This shows how these people are able to overcome not only the stigma, but the disorder itself to lead valuable, happy lives.