The new series on Amazon Prime, “Modern Love,” is inspired by personal essays from The New York Times’ column of the same name. The third episode is based on Terri Cheney’s 2008 essay, “Take Me as I Am, Whoever I Am.” At the beginning of the story, Lexi (Anne Hathaway) is at the grocery store during a euphoric, manic high. Her mood is shown through her outfit (sequins, bright colors), constant smiling, upbeat narration and even dancing. The grocery store scenes are shot like a musical. She is instantly drawn to a man named Jeff (Gary Carr); even Jeff, a complete stranger, seems to notice that she’s “crazy energized” to a degree that isn’t normal. They go on a coffee date and plan to have a dinner date later in the week.
Later, at work, her coworker at the law firm says HR is concerned about her absences. Lexi creates excuses and it becomes clear to the audience that she did not tell HR about her mental illness. She appears to have an ultra-rapid cycling form of bipolar disorder, shifting from mania to depression within very short periods of time (e.g., every few days). For their dinner date, Jeff sees Lexi during a depressive episode. She appears completely different (outfit dark and plain, hair unkempt, expression flat, drained) and Jeff clearly notices the drastic change.
A morning following the disastrous date, she wakes up manic and calls up Jeff, once again super energized, excited and confident. However, by the time he appears that night at her door for the date, she once again has flipped, going from dancing around her apartment to sobbing uncontrollably on the bathroom floor. When Jeff walks away, she decides things need to change. She needs to start giving people a chance to know her. When she gets fired from work, she and her coworker (Quincy Tyler Bernstine) go out to lunch where she discloses her bipolar diagnosis. After that disclosure, she feels relieved. “Like an elephant’s taken one of its feet off my chest,” she says. This initial step allowed her to open up to more people from her past. By the end of the episode, a few years later, she is ready to be completely open with someone romantically, to meet the man who will accept her despite her condition.
As someone who has bipolar disorder, there are aspects of the portrayal I like and some I don’t. Given how much of this condition is happening internally, I was curious as to how they would show the complexity of mania and depression. I found the approach to mania pretty creative. The beginning was like a happy musical, with singing, dancing and a sequin outfit. Her other manic episode was filmed for a bit as if she was living in a title sequence of her own TV show. It was an interesting approach, and I think it showed mania is far beyond just super happy.
What I did not like was how mania was portrayed as purely positive (super productive periods, charming, attractive, energetic). Mania should not be romanticized. During mania, people lose their jobs, career, relationships, life savings, etc. Also, mania can feature dangerous activity. A common misconception is that mania is a joyful experience; however, it can feel like extreme irritability, agitation and/or hostility rather than euphoria. I understand that only so much can be portrayed within one episode, but I worry that the episode makes it seem like the only downside to mania is that it crashes into depression.
I related a bit too strongly to the scene during which Lexi collapses onto her bathroom floor as if the anxiety and depression are literally weighing her down. She appears to struggle to breathe as she starts to sob. Depression can feel incredibly intense, an overwhelming amount of sadness, hopelessness and despair. I think Hathaway’s acting during this scene truly helped to illustrate how depression can feel for some people.
Lexi’s character seems to have a form of bipolar disorder with very little “baseline” or “euthymic” periods. She seems to have very brief mood episodes that change very suddenly from mania to depression and back with no stability. For many people with bipolar disorder, this is not the case. Mood episodes may last weeks, even months. To flip back and forth within a day is not the norm for those with bipolar disorder. Also, many people have much better control of their lives due to medication and other treatment approaches (e.g., CBT).
I appreciated the scene during which Lexi disclosed her bipolar disorder diagnosis for the first time. Her former coworker was incredibly supportive and kind. In fact, her coworker stated that she wished she had known sooner. I hope this creates real-life conversations that allow people to open up and seek help rather than put so much effort into hiding their conditions.
Have you watched this episode yet? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.