Oscar Favorite

02.18.13

Silver Linings Playbook’s Silver Lining–Honest Talk About Mental Illness

Executive producer Michelle Raimo Kouyate and co-executive producer Renee Witt explain why they had to get the film made.

Stories about Little Movies That Could usually center on coincidences involving celebrities and financing—serendipitous, right-place, right time stuff. While our film couldn’t have taken off—or gotten started—without Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, David O. Russell, Harvey Weinstein, or the late Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella, the real steam for its genesis came from long-gone, unfamous people in our own lives. People whose stories we could never forget, because they forever changed our own.

Both of us had experienced the loneliness and frustration depicted in the film firsthand. Renee grew up the child of a paranoid schizophrenic, believing she had the world’s only mentally-ill mom, feeling ashamed by it, and dreaming of her mom’s silver lining. She optioned Silver Linings Playbook (the novel) during her very first week working at the Weinstein Company, with the hope it might help audiences see that mental illness is just that—an illness—comprising but one part of a person’s whole, rather than defining them.

The Silver Linings Playbook novel hit Michelle like “a ton of bricks thrown at [her] chest.” Five years earlier, her husband had died at the age of 33, and like Tiffany, Jennifer Lawrence’s character in the movie, Michelle couldn’t seem to identify herself as anything but her dead husband’s wife. She was crippled by severe survivor’s guilt, stuck in a pitch-black mindset with no idea of how to find her way out. By the time she came across the novel, Michelle had found her silver lining in the form of other people—her family, her friends, her community, her therapist, and most importantly, her now-husband and son—and she wanted other struggling people to see that this sort of transformation was possible. The characters in Silver Linings Playbook proved it.

Even though its content was specific to our own experiences, we believed Silver Linings Playbook was a story that would resonate with a wide audience. The book showed ordinary people struggling with everyday issues in an honest, often humorous and ultimately uplifting light. This was a love story between a man with bipolar disease and a woman with depression. To feel their struggles, to appreciate their Herculean efforts, to identify with—on a visceral level—the flawed beauty of their humanity. As producers who think about the wider appeal of a film, had the story seemed inaccessible or too dark and specialized, we never would have gone for it. We wanted people to leave the theater feeling inspired in their own lives, and we believed that going along on Pat and Tiffany’s journey would show how understanding, support, and love can go a long way to helping people find a silver lining in their lives. Sometimes there's a happy ending, sometimes not.  For us, it has been amazing seeing audiences respond as powerfully to the film as we had hoped—but the silver lining that has taken us by surprise has been the conversation this film has opened up about mental illness.

Many deeply personal films take years and years to make, and this one was no exception. Back in May 2007, when the project got started, Michelle teamed with Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella as one of the original producers on the film, and Renee was working as an executive at the Weinstein Company. Together, we brought it to Harvey, who just "got it" immediately.

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Director David O. Russell was the first person we sent the book to, because we felt his way of looking at the world would give this film the honest tone it needed: sharp highs and lows, crazy laughter mixed in with all the tears. When David told us about about his son Matthew, who had long struggled with a mood disorder, we knew with total certainty that he was the only one who could make this movie.

By the fall of 2007 we had a deal in place, with David to adapt. During the past 6 years, we've lost our great friends and unrivaled collaborators Sydney and Anthony, and gained three brilliant, seasoned shepherds in the form of producers Donna Gigliotti, Bruce Cohen, and Jon Gordon.

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Jojo Whilden/The Weinstein Company

Even though it was released last November, Silver Linings Playbook has been making news recently because of the spotlight it casts upon mental illness. The movie’s stars and director have shared their own very personal connections to the material on national television, even traveling to Washington, D.C. to lobby Vice President Joe Biden for improvements in the nation’s mental-health-care system.

The silver lining that has taken us by surprise has been the conversation this film has opened up about mental illness.
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Jojo Whilden/The Weinstein Company

Lately we’ve heard rumblings that some folks think we’ve been pushing the mental-illness conversation out of a desire to win awards. Of course we want this movie to win awards—we want to reach as broad an audience as possible, so that the people of this country might finally have an honest conversation about mental illness. No matter what happens on Oscar night, we hope—and believe—that everyone will keep talking.

Because, gold statuettes aside, contributing to this new cultural awareness is the most important silver lining of all.