David O. Russell's Very Personal 'Silver Linings Playbook' Finds Comedy in Mental Illness
Bradley Cooper, David O. Russell Meeting with Vice President Biden on Mental Healthcare
An old north star for authors and journalists is to write what you know, and it's a good maxim for film directors to follow, as well -- especially when wading into stormy waters of peril-fraught subjects such as mental illness.
The Silver Linings Playbook plows into those issues head-on, balancing its plot on imbalance in a cast of characters composed of the bipolar, depressed and obsessive compulsive. It is a work of fiction, but represents a reality to the creative team behind the film.
"It’s very personal to me. My son, I’ve been through this with my son and his friend, and that’s why I did the movie," director David O. Russell told The Hollywood Reporter at the film's New York premiere on Monday night, nodding his head back at his teenage son, who takes in the after-party scene from a few feet away. "So when it’s personal, you know that you’re coming from the right place. You’re not coming from a reckless place. You’re coming from a very careful place. I’m 18 years deep with this kid, so I’m very invested in him and his friends."
In fact, he even gave his son a small part in the movie.
In the movie, based on the Matthew Quick-penned novel of the same name, Bradley Cooper plays a bipolar former teacher named Pat returning after eight months in a mental hospital -- the result of a plea bargain for the violent meltdown he suffered when finding his wife in the shower with another man. As he returns home to Philadelphia, to live with parents Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver, he struggles to adjust to the real world, launching into frequent, frantic occasional outbursts (like cursing Ernest Hemingway and throwing books out a window) -- when he's not saying frank and socially inappropriate things. He is ultimately a sweet man, misguidedly obsessed with repairing his marriage, and his uneasy fit in a society that prizes normalcy -- always a subjective concept -- is mined for plenty of comedy.
To Quick the laughter comes from a place of sympathy.
"You’re never laughing at somebody that has a mental health illness, you’re laughing at the absurdity of what’s going on, for all the characters involved," he said Monday, pointing to his own history of depression -- he wrote the book while living with his parents, having quit his job as a teacher. "As someone who has worked in the mental health community, I know that laughter is very important. And the people I’ve worked with, if they could laugh at the absurdity -- again, never at the people -- they usually had a much better success rate of suffering from mental illness."
Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Tiffany, a depressed widow that pursues him both for love and as a dance competition partner, toe the fraught line of finding the humor in manic, unstable behavior; their outbursts, quick-twitch responses and wild swings (especially in Cooper's case) are designs to elicit laughs, without being cartoonish caricatures.
"You just play it real, and whatever comes of that. That’s all we try to do, actually," Cooper told THR. "Because in life, things are funny when they’re very tragic. You make connections to your life. You use your imagination, but you always try to make things real for yourself."