Camera-ready madness or Why I hate great movies like Silver Linings Playbook

Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in the diner scene from "Silver Linings Playbook."

Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in the diner scene from “Silver Linings Playbook”

As Mental Health Awareness Month comes to a close, let’s hope it doesn’t fall off the radar. Luckily, an increasing number of TV shows and movies with mentally ill characters are being immortalized on discs and streaming video. As a result, viewers will be reminded about the affliction and its toll on families and people who love them. One of the most popular productions depicting the condition, “Silver Linings Playbook,” has received critical acclaim from many groups. With its recent DVD release, the award-winning movie will extend its life, attracting an even wider following. There is one problem: although well-written and superbly acted, the film’s characterization as a comedy is misguided. It’s like calling “Modern Family” a drama. After all, seeing Bradley Cooper, the “Sexiest Man Alive,” rant and rave, waking up his stressed out parents, seems downright funny. Hilarity ensures when the beautiful and talented Jennifer Lawrence acts up in a diner. But to many of us, scenes like these are as amusing as watching a car accident.

In 1988, movie audiences giggled over the antics of the autistic Raymond, played by Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Man.” I went to see the movie with my friends, blissfully unaware of how close to home this movie would hit. Each time the audience laughed at Raymond, I tried to understand they were coming from another world, untouched by someone who exhibits inappropriate and weird behavior. To me, Raymond was real. Every time he embarrassed his brother, played by Tom Cruise, my heart sank. Everyday incidents flooded my mind, from having to protect my older brother from bullies, to his embarrassing outbursts in public. Or when he would play with broken pieces of plastic for hours or wax on about nonsense while my friends tried not to laugh. “He’s talking ragtime again,” my Nana would say. Throughout “Rain Man,” I wanted to scream, “What’s so &%$# funny?” I kept my cool because speaking up would classify me as a kill joy or a drama queen. Instead, I vowed to avoid films about mental illness.

As a movie buff, I am drawn to all films, particularly those with great reviews. So I tried again with “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” “A Beautiful Mind,” “Prozac Nation” and others. Through this exposure, I was convinced that I could become desensitized and eventually gain some objectivity. I reminded myself that most people just don’t understand the havoc that mental illness wreaks. Most importantly, I willed myself to toughen up, so others wouldn’t have to walk on eggshells around me.

These movies still affect me, but not as profoundly. Fictionalized portrayals will always be out there, but they will be misunderstood by people who don’t live with the real characters. No film, book or entreaty by an actor will ever improve these situations, but the publicity can result in better policies and eliminate stigmas so that more people will get help. According to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, 60 percent of people with the disease are not treated. So I’m all for raising awareness, no matter where it comes from — even if Hollywood movie stars are delivering the message. Now that’s a silver lining.

Despite increased awareness, we may still get an “I don’t understand” or “Buck up and get over it” look if we criticize popular films because they’re too painful or unrealistic for us. So now I just go with the flow. The other day, a friend said “Silver Linings Playbook” was the best movie he’s seen in a long time. When he asked my opinion, I said, “It was great.” Nothing more. My family got the straight dope.


Ballroom Bliss: How Dancing Can Nurture Relationships

Dancing is a healthy and enjoyable activity for couples of all ages.

Long before “Dancing with the Stars” became a hit show, I dreamed of waltzing around a room effortlessly with an elegant partner. Endless cajoling of boyfriends to tango and foxtrot was attempted for years, all in vain. Fast forward 18 years. My husband and I can be seen promenading at our favorite dance venues. We’re not Kellie Pickler and Derek Hough, but we can glide around the floor, much to the surprise of our friends and the horror of our teenaged daughter. On TV it looks effortless, but dancing doesn’t come easy. Doing it as a couple takes many lessons and years of practice to look smooth. Like all great relationships, it takes time and patience. You must be kind, show tact, have a sense of humor and be willing to relinquish control. Interestingly, the man always leads, but the woman’s first step is always on her right foot. (Somehow, this is easy for me to remember.)

When I first proposed going dancing as a “fun and athletic” activity, my husband reluctantly agreed because he plays soccer. Little did he know this sporty avocation would become fancy dress up dates! Our Friday evening lessons are preceded by days of preparation. Babysitters and dinner reservations are lined up. I visit stores in search of the perfect skirt that will flow elegantly as we “twinkle” around the floor. I furtively practice in store aisles to the piped in music. When we get to the studio on date night, Boris says,”you have to look good, you have to smell good,” when you dance. A strict Ukranian pro, our teacher is all business. Bickering is not allowed and Boris threatens to dismiss anyone who argues on his watch.

The advice about looking good isn’t lost on me. “Dressing the part makes you a better dancer,” I tell my husband. I become Grace Kelly or Chita Rivera, depending on the lesson. So on Latin night, I resurrect an old flapper dress and my high-heeled tango shoes from Argentina. On go the false eyelashes. A hair piece is accented with the perfect flower. On the conservative streets of Boston, outfits like these can elicit stares and laughter. But no one bats a fake eyelash at the studio, because dressing the part is de rigueur in the exciting world of ballroom. It’s like being in a Baz Luhrmann production. On waltz night, I ask my husband to dress like Jean DuJardin in “The Artist.” No dice. I adorn a chiffon skirt and lacy, flowing blouse. On my feet are closed, two-inch pumps for “smooth” dancing, as proper shoes are important. My husband will sport a jacket and tie, gel his hair and gargle. (Boris is right. Who wants to dance with someone who just ate shrimp scampi?)  He wears cologne, making me swoon as we glide through an instrumental “Moon River.” My face hurts from smiling. “Going out dancing is like attending a costume party,” I giggle. “It’s more fun than Halloween!”

My husband doesn’t share the glee. He’d rather mow the lawn during a heat wave. Fortunately, we agree that quality time together is essential to remaining close, whether it’s dancing or doing something else. Like ships passing in the night, couples today are increasingly harried by the demands of work, family and an endless array of distractions. What could be more romantic than dancing hand-in-hand, looking into each others’ eyes and swaying to beautiful music? It’s a great way to stay present and connected. (After all, you can’t check your iPhone when locked in a proper dance frame.) Our lessons lay the groundwork for part two of our date. Over dinner, we talk about whether the music in the restaurant is a cha-cha or triple-time swing. We marvel at how much better we are getting and think about weddings coming up so we can practice. Any opportunity to dance is a golden one that pays dividends. It’s aerobic, social and fun for all ages. Most importantly, the relationship benefits top any bonding exercise we’ve ever done. So even if your husband won’t don a tux and tails like Monsieur DuJardin, if he goes dancing with you, he’s more exciting than a movie star. He’s a great partner. Your relationship will thrive.