Brilliant film, amazing performances, Silver Linings Playbook is truly not to be missed. It is no mistake that four of the actors – Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver are up for Academy Awards. A rare, but well deserved honor! I had no idea who Bradley Cooper was. I whispered to Alan a few moments into the film, “Who IS that?” I said it largely because not only did I not recognize his name, he looks like a lot of guys who appear on the large screen and have great careers right now. Alan whispered back, “He’s the star of all the Hangover movies.” No wonder I didn’t know who he was before this – definitely not my oeuvre, those Hangover movies. Jennifer Lawrence we met, of course in Winter’s Bone and said, “Holy cannoli, this gal is great. Of course, she’s just a kid. Wonder if she can make the transition from child actress to adult?” Apparently she can. Damn is she good. If you are a fan of Australian films and television, how many times have you seen Jacki Weaver? Just look at her IMDb page and say “Oh, yeah!” And then there is De Niro. Of course, he is masterful and amazing and everything we have come to hope and expect and love about spending time with him in a darkened theater.
If you are an attorney, it is De Niro for whom you should see this film. Why? Because this is a funny, sad story about falling in love – and mental illness. And we have spent decades watching De Niro play mentally ill characters.
What struck me is that in the world of film, our growing understanding of mental illness as a society is reflected in the characters and stories we create and enjoy and explore from three quarters of the way, through the 20th century, to now. Think of De Niro as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. He was terrifying, wasn’t he? The dark horror that we all fear who needed to be destroyed. And he was. At that time, we still harbored a belief that mentally ill people needed to be destroyed. Or institutionalized. They certainly needed to be kept away from us and were hopeless on some level. Now, fast forward a few decades, and think of the mob boss Paul Vitti in Analyze This who seeks out a therapist. This comedy explored the now very acceptable relationship of mentally ill patient and therapist. At this point, many of us had been to therapy and recognized that talking through issues and problems might be a good thing. I remember reading somewhere De Niro’s Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver might well have benefited from having Billy Crystal as a therapist. And now this wonderful turn as Pat Sr., an obsessive compulsive with a kid who also has problems. Now we are in a time where we recognize that pharmaceuticals can help many people overcome mental health issues and problems. Silver Linings Playbook is very outspoken about this truth of our modern time. Can you imagine if Travis Bickle had both talk therapy and prescription drugs?
Now here’s what I don’t understand. How could we, as a society, have progressed so far in the past several decades in our understanding about mental illness…but so little in terms of what happens when mentally ill people break our laws? Almost every time I work on a criminal case, it is obvious to me that the defendant is suffering from some form or other, or sometimes multiple forms of mental illness. I find it extraordinary that the question “does he know the difference between right and wrong?” continues to be the criteria for mental health in our legal system. It’s like we are stuck with some at-minimum 19th century criteria in a 21st century world. I mean I get it intellectually – we got rid of our mental health programs awhile back and so now our jails and prisons are where our mentally ill citizens are spending their time. But – that the law says that this is legitimate I find truly amazing.
TIP: Was Chico Marx right? Is there “no sanity clause”?