Jennifer Lawrence Double Feature – Silver Linings Playbook and Hunger Games: Catching Fire

It’s the last day of my break between quarters, and I spent it with Jennifer Lawrence. :-) First I watched Silver Linings Playbook, then Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook is good, even though Hollywood always seems to struggle with portraying mental illness, its effects on people’s lives, and its treatment. Having myself evaluated and cared for a countless number of patients in crisis service settings that were in the midst of manic episodes, I do feel that Bradley Cooper’s performance of mania is not too far off the mark. If anything it is actually a bit understated and restrained.

And although I was entertained by Robert Deniro’s performance as Pat Senior, it seemed that his character served to suggest that perhaps son Pat could have unresolved issues because of some of his father’s traits that bear some resemblance to bipolar disorder (OCD behaviors, irritability, grandiose superstition bordering on delusion, high impulsivity in the form of gambling). Accordingly there may have been the suggestion that bipolar disorder is something that could come about because of unresolved psychological issues related to parenting. If so, this would not be accurate.

The similarities between father and son seem also to suggest that we’re all a bit nuts, each in our own way–which is not a bad message in and of itself. In the context of mental illness it seems to be used to suggest that our personal “nuttiness” is basically just packaged in different ways from person to person, and perhaps that in itself acts as a kind of equalizer. So, for example, Pat Sr.’s symptoms render him socially acceptable and relatively innocuous (well, actually not so much the latter given that Sr. seems to have lost his job and nearly loses his entire fortune due to his gambling addiction; and his book making operation from the home could land him in jail). And in contrast Pat Jr.’s symptoms define him as mentally ill and quite scary when decompensated. Maybe the film wants us to question whether the difference is actually so great. This seems to be Hollywood’s typical way of using a theme (here mental illness) to attempt to make some sort of broader statement about life or the human condition.

However, to the film’s credit it does show how seriously mental illness often impacts upon people’s lives. (See this article from Digg for a much more sobering take than this film.) We also see that in fact Pat does stabilize when he remains on his meds. And finally, fairy tale endings can indeed happen for people with mental illness. I guess overall the film does a very nice job of de-stigmatizing mental illness, and even if it “Hollywood-izes” the subject matter that is a win overall.

Jennifer Lawrence was wonderful as always. What more is there to say. She is so gifted. She is shaping up to be one of the great actresses of her generation.

Putting aside my nitpicking with what I view as some of the film’s problems, ultimately I was able to appreciate Silver Linings Playbook simply as a love story. The performances were superb, and the story compelling. Although the picture’s handling of mental illness is contrived in a number of ways, best I could see it used mental illness for a larger metaphor that we’re all messed up in various ways; and acceptance of all that we are is the key to both healing from various emotional injuries and establishing healthy, loving relationships. Pat represents a driven determination to use negative events to ultimately learn and grow, on the one hand–but in that there is a flight from his pain. On the other hand, Tiffany represents the need not to fear–and indeed to embrace–the messy, hurting, and troubled aspects of ourselves; and to live spontaneously and earthily with them. As a couple each provides what the other lacks. And I do concur that when these qualities are united people do indeed have the opportunity to recover from the hard knocks and many unfairnesses that life deals out, and to learn to love in healthy ways.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

I must admit that if The Hunger Games film trilogy did not feature Jennifer Lawrence, I’m pretty sure that I would not have enjoyed the two of them that I have seen thus far anywhere near to the degree that I have. (I have yet to see Mockingjay.) I enjoy the films because I care about what happens to Katniss–and Jennifer Lawrence makes me care about the character.

This movie develops the greater story arc in a pretty satisfying way. It is satisfying that Katniss becomes a symbol of hope and rebellion, and that the revolution comes.

I found myself having much more sympathy for Peeta than in the first film. And I enjoyed how Gale is used (his preening narcissism is apparently just an act for the government). Woody Harrelson’s role gets some good development. And Philip Seymour Hoffman is always a pleasure to watch in anything he does (RIP). I’ve never been much of a Donald Sutherland fan, but he seems well cast and he always does his thing flawlessly.

I’m running out of time to write before I go to bed, so I don’t have much to offer by way of offering any thoughtful views of it…

I have just one observation, really. It is a brutal, grotesque, horrifyingly cynical, and profoundly depressing dystopia that Katniss inhabits–and somehow survives. And her determination not to lose her humanity and vulnerability because of that is inspiring. It’s good to have reminders such as films like this that the harsher aspects of life do not have to dehumanize us.

Okay, well that’s going to do it for movie reviews this winter season. Now it’s back to the grind with my studies for the next ten weeks.

Jennifer Lawrence Double Feature – Silver Linings Playbook and Hunger Games: Catching Fire