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Exes and Hoes

February 21, 2014

Apparently, everyone is crazy in David O. Russell’s film Silver Linings Playbook.

The characters in this film are the kind of quirky-crazy that we have come to love in films like Little Miss Sunshine. We can laugh at their mania, dark depression, obsessive compulsions, addictions, dependence and abuse. We never see the truly dark places these people go, or the true struggles they have to keep living their day to day lives. Instead, we see them finding love. I am sadly left thinking, does Mr. Russell think crazy people can ONLY end up with the like?

Silver Linings Playbook stills

The film starts out with Dolores Solatano (Jacki Weaver) going topick up her son Pat (Bradley Cooper) from the hospital where he has been ordered to undergo treatment after a manic bipolar episode takes him too far and he nearly kills a man he found having an affair with his wife. It is clear that, though resistant, he is working with therapy and medicine to re-achieve a sense of normalcy.

At a dinner party hosted by a pair of his married friends, who clearly are both suffering from some combination of undiagnosed depression and anxiety, he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). Tiffany has recently become a widow when her police officer husband was killed in an automobile accident. A devastating loss for a young woman, and as a result of her subsequent depression she is highly medicated and has apparently turned to many sexual partners to fill the loss in her life.

The fact that she has been engaging in sex with multiple partners has opened the door for everyone in this community to label Tiffany a “whore” or a “slut.” Throughout the film we see characters treat Tiffany like a piece of meat and discourage Pat from engaging in social activities with her. Are they worried her “crazy” is going to rub off on him? Tiffany even takes this badge on herself, referring to what she did to cope with her unimaginable loss as a “being a slut.”

What are the consequences to depicting mental illness as sort of charming?

What are the consequences to depicting mental illness as sort of charming?

I find it so troubling that throughout this film, Pat’s moments of manic behavior are put on par as Tiffany’s behavior when, in fact, the men in this town continually take advantage of Tiffany’s depression and vulnerability for their sexual purposes. Tiffany is going through a major time of grieving and as a result, has sex with multiple partners. The community puts the blame and title of “crazy” on her for that. It would be one thing if they ever did make the connection between her overt sexuality and the loss of her husband, but Mr. Russell does not, instead having Pat refer to the “poor choices she made in the past.” It is a type of victim blaming going on here that is commonplace in our world today.

Even if nothing had happened to Tiffany, and she was simply a highly sexually active person, our society is quick to label women like that andbegin to treat them differently. The danger in doing this is we all start looking at someone in a completely new way when they are labeled something negative. People are not to quick to come to the defense of a “whore” or a “slut” being harassed at a party because “they love sex,” “they probably enjoy that,” “they are dressed like they want to have sex with someone.” It is much easier to find someone blameworthy than to come to their defense. We treat the mentally ill similarly. We do understand their illness and, as a result, feel the need to ostracize them.

The fact is that we are a nation that does not properly diagnose and treat mental illness. It is sad that a series of fatal shootings are what finally brought this major social problem facing our citizenry to the general public’s attention. We need to educate ourselves more about how to help our fellow citizens. The Pats in our society need our support as well as the Tiffanys. They do not need us labeling them “crazy” or a “slut” and treating them as less than the rest of us and undeserving of our care.

Tiffany and Pat do deserve love and happiness, and probably would be happy together, but it is too easy to tell a story where in the “crazy guy” and the “crazy girl” fall in the love, the end. Life is not that simple, and in this case these are two very complicated people who are much more than the sum of their past experiences. This is the time for bold filmmakers to depict the dark reality of mental illness, and not to gloss it up or paint false pictures of female sexuality as psychotic. This is just re-enforcing old stereotypes that we should be throwing out.

Anthony DiNicola

A native of Massachusetts, Anthony moved to Chicago after graduation from Bowdoin College with a B.A. in English and Theatre. Fierce advocate for those who's voices are not heard nearly enough.