Couple of very interesting and watchable films that touch on the topic of mental health. Two very different protagonists, two very compelling examinations on the sometimes finer line that can exist between us, and them.
Hello, My Name is Doris (2015)
This movie, I thought, was a rather novel take on the formula of “the mentally ill person is the sanest person in the room.” Sally Field’s character, while certainly functional and able to hold down a job, lives a life no one would envy and is clearly not the sane person in the room. However, she is extremely sympathetic and engenders a strong feeling of compassion from the audience. She is one of the older employees in a youth oriented office environment, has been taking care of her elderly mother until her death, and has limited social interaction outside work, although she does have a close, and reassuringly nonjudgmental, friend played by Tyne Daly.
The movie opens with Doris at her mother’s funeral. Almost immediately the facets of her mental disorders are uncovered and manifest in loneliness and extreme hoarding. The home that Doris shared with her mother is overflowing with clutter. The lack of supportive family environment is shown to be a contributing factor. Doris’ only sibling is an overbearing brother with a selfish and impatient spouse, who reveals her true colors almost in the same moment when she is trying to be pleasant. It is completely sane and understandable that Doris avoids them and spends as little time with them as possible. DNA does not necessarily a family make.
Meanwhile, at work, a new young executive smiles at her in the elevator and Doris is instantly transported into a world where the 20something man is secretly harboring feelings for the 65 year old woman, and unlike the family situation, here you wish Doris would wake up and realize how out of touch with reality her imaginings are. This is emphatically not a remake of Harold and Maude, which was a strange but mutual relationship that ended on a very affirming note (and one of the greatest films of all time). In this case, although a curious friendship develops between the two, it is not romantic except inside Doris’ head.
The way in which Doris slowly comes to terms with her own mental challenges is written and crafted in a realistic and believable way, with the help of a very patient and understanding therapist. None of us can confront our emotional baggage and mental hangups, simply because other people say we should – we can only move forward when (and if) we are ready to take that step. Despite a somewhat weighty underlying message, the movie is by and large the opposite of bleak: it is endearing and humorous, light and bright, with consistent brilliant delivery from Sally Field.
Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Like other movies that touch on or dive into this topic, there are those moments where the mentally ill person is indeed, seemingly the most sane one in the room, and other moments where the dividing line between sanity and insanity couldn’t be more sharp or bright. The movie opens with Pat’s mother arranging for his release from the facility where he has been institutionalized for 9 months. He is seen pretending to take his medication, and the impression you’re supposed to have is that he doesn’t belong there. It doesn’t take long for the audience to appreciate that he actually is not functioning all that well. Thus, the movie starts off with a restrained quality containing a spark that only hinted at the development that was to come later.
A variety of triggers would release Pat’s intense reactions, such as when he woke his parents up in the middle of the night to rail against the invisible enemy that was his own mind as he fiercely raved on about the shortcomings of Hemingway classic “Farewell to Arms” and everything that the book stood for. Where the movie dropped all pretense that it wasn’t going to take hold of your soul was the scene where Pat arrives at his therapist’s office, hears Stevie Wonders’ “My Cherie Amour” played over the PA for him and flips out. Leaving aside the somewhat questionable ethics of this therapist in deliberately provoking his patient, the song’s wistful and beautiful melody that has always stood on its own, becomes downright mesmerizing and chilling, one of those movie moments that you can’t shake off. It’s even more remarkable how it was used considering the audience doesn’t yet know the reason Pat was so affected. Not long after we experience that torture with Pat, his budding friendship with Tiffany, played by Jennifer Lawrence, punctures the absurdity of such emotional intensity in the way she tells him it’s a song and he’ll have to get over it. The character development is slow and rewarding; by this time, you’re in it with them, and the weaving together of what everyone has on the line creates a movie with emotional impact. Getting DeNiro to contribute his magic as Pat Sr. was also a stroke of casting genius.
Bradley Cooper redeemed himself a thousand percent in my eyes. If I were him I would burn all existing copies of “Aloha” and keep this film at the top of my resume. The one odd note to me was the seeming promotion of medication compliance in a movie that featured refreshingly strong personalities that almost don’t exist in today’s medicated society. But maybe I get the wrong takeaway. Wouldn’t be the first time.