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Mental illness not accurate on screen

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Posted: Monday, January 28, 2013 1:00 am

The Academy-Award-nominated film “Silver Linings Playbook” is a contender for the best movie of the year. But some critics wonder how accurately it portrays mental illness.

Alvin Lawrence, licensed psychologist at the Counseling and Wellness Center, said movies need entertainment value so experiences become more dramatic and symptoms become more amplified.

The movie, which was released in December, focuses on Bradley Cooper’s character, Pat, who was recently discharged from a mental hospital. His love interest, Tiffany, played by Jennifer Lawrence, is battling her own demons. Although their portrayals have earned best actor nominations and praise for being realistic, the feel-good romantic ending left audiences chuckling at the drama.

For the director to condense someone’s everyday life into an hour and a half, audiences can misunderstand that day-to-day life doesn’t happen that quickly, Lawrence said.

“Art sometimes reflects life,” he said. “But depending on the way it is presented, movies have as much potential to help as to harm.”

He has not seen “Silver Linings Playbook” but said in any Hollywood portrayal of mental illness audiences have to be mindful that someone may do something that is funny, but there is something that runs deeper underneath.

“We laugh when we are uncomfortable,” he said.

Lawrence said challenges that characters face in movies can be found funny when they are taken out of context.

“But put in context, that is someone’s life,” he said. “They aren’t deciding to be manic in the middle of the night.”

Some critics felt like the romantic big finish suggests that love can heal mental illness.

“It’s possible, but that’s not what we see,” Lawrence said. “It’s not to say that someone can’t manage their symptoms without medication or intensive treatment. There are people who do that. But that may not be the norm.”

Taylor Scott, a 19-year-old UF nursing freshman, said her friend told her it was a comedy, but she was surprised with how serious some parts of the movie were.

Although “Silver Linings Playbook” was met with cinematic success, Lawrence said movies that portray mental illness could make people feel oversimplified or insulted.

But in the end, “you have to recognize it’s entertainment and take it with a grain of salt,” he said.

Contact Alexa Volland at avolland@alligator.org.

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