Dec 01

“The Homesman”: Mental Health Issues in the Old West

Hilary Swank and Tommy Lee Jones are getting kudos for their roles in the new female-centric Western called The Homesman, directed and co-written by Jones. The film, adapted from a 1988 novel by Glendon Swarthout, is also getting some decent reviews.

The official description of the film: “When three women living on the edge of the American frontier are driven mad by harsh pioneer life, the task of saving them falls to the pious, independent-minded Mary Bee Cuddy (Hilary Swank). Transporting the women by covered wagon to Iowa, she soon realizes just how daunting the journey will be, and employs a low-life drifter, George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones), to join her. The unlikely pair and the three women (Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, Sonja Richter) head east, where a waiting minister and his wife (Meryl Streep) have offered to take the women in. But the group first must traverse the harsh Nebraska Territories marked by stark beauty, psychological peril and constant threat.”

Other people met along the way include “an opportunistic cowboy (Tim Blake Nelson)…and an unctuous innkeeper (James Spader), unrealistically holding out for a better class of clientele than one usually finds on the lone prairie” (Pete Vonder Haar, Village Voice).

You can view the trailer below:

The Mental Health Issues

Peter Debruge, Variety, comments on attitudes toward mental health issues back then and now:

‘People like to talk about death and taxes, but when it comes to crazy, they stay hushed up,’ notes a townsperson in the hardscrabble Nebraska Territories where the seemingly linear but surprisingly unpredictable story begins. That amateur philosopher’s observation is as true today as it might have been in 1854, which means instead of rehashing the same stale Old West stories that have all but exhausted the genre, ‘The Homesman’…has the unique advantage of exploring a relatively overlooked chapter of America’s past.

Rex Reed, New York Observer: “The three demented women include a catatonic, doll-clutching 19-year-old (Meryl Streep’s daughter Grace Gummer) banished by her husband after losing her baby; a violent schizophrenic (Miranda Otto) who threw her newborn infant down the hole of an outhouse; and a hysterical immigrant (Sonja Richter) who lost her mother in the snow and now spends her days screaming for an exorcism from the devil.”

Selected Reviews

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle: “Few will regret having seen ‘The Homesman,’ and yet it’s not exactly an enjoyable experience. The film occupies that peculiar space that many of us would prefer to believe doesn’t exist, a movie that’s worthy but often inert, by turns enriching and enervating: a good boring movie.”

A.O. Scott, New York Times: “‘The Homesman’ is both a captivating western and a meticulous, devastating feminist critique of the genre.”

Andrew O’Hehir, Salon: “A wrenching, relentless and anti-heroic western that stands among the year’s most powerful American films. Not everyone will like ‘The Homesman,’ but if you see it you won’t soon forget it.”

May 10

Marc Maron, Paul Gilmartin: Mental Health and Comedy

Mixing mental health issues and comedy works—at least for two different guys, Marc Maron and Paul Gilmartin, who’ve become well known for this in their careers.

Marc Maron currently has several big things going on. On an ongoing and popular podcast (“WTF with Marc Maron”) he’s open about his own neuroses and interviews other comedians about their personal issues. Then there’s also a new TV series on IFC called Maron and a new book, Attempting Normal.

Attempting Normal came out several days before the TV show. As Maron is presented by his publisher: “…a parent-scarred, angst-filled, drug-dabbling, love-starved comedian who dreamed of a simple life: a wife, a home, a sitcom to call his own. But instead he woke up one day to find himself fired from his radio job, surrounded by feral cats, and emotionally and financially annihilated by a divorce from a woman he thought he loved. He tried to heal his broken heart through whatever means he could find—minor-league hoarding, Viagra addiction, accidental racial profiling, cat fancying, flying airplanes with his mind—but nothing seemed to work. It was only when he was stripped down to nothing that he found his way back.”

And what about the book? “Attempting Normal is Marc Maron’s journey through the wilderness of his own mind, a collection of explosively, painfully, addictively funny stories that add up to a moving tale of hope and hopelessness, of failing, flailing, and finding a way…”

Scott Gordon, AV Club, has compared another funny guy with a podcast, Paul Gilmartin, to Marc Maron: “When he began his podcast, The Mental Illness Happy Hour, last year, Gilmartin set a tone of calm and vulnerability, interviewing fellow comedians…and support-group friends about depression, childhood sexual abuse, addiction, and all the other ‘battles in our heads.’ It could easily have become a self-indulgent morass of sordid details and drawn-out wallowing; but it turns out that Gilmartin is a patient and empathetic interviewer who spins the episodes toward how things can improve. His stated goal, in fact, is to get listeners to seek help and therapy. It probably also helps that Gilmartin’s mild-mannered style doesn’t scream ‘trouble.'”

Gilmartin went off his meds at one point, and his depression became “awful, awful.” That’s when he got the idea of “interviewing people who have learned to identify the voice of darkness in their lives and separate it from reality, and talk about how we deal with darkness…I thought it would be fun to have a show that deals with that as openly and as honestly as I’ve experienced it being dealt with in support group.”

The Mental Illness Happy Hour is found at http://mentalpod.com.

Nov 15

“Silver Linings Playbook”: The Mental Health Issues

Silver Linings Playbook is based on Matthew Quick‘s 2008 novel and was adapted for the screen and directed by David O. Russell. The official movie description:

Life doesn’t always go according to plan. Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper) has lost everything — his house, his job, and his wife. He now finds himself living back with his mother (Jacki Weaver) and father (Robert DeNiro) after spending eight months in a state institution on a plea bargain. Pat is determined to rebuild his life, remain positive and reunite with his wife, despite the challenging circumstances of their separation. All Pat’s parents want is for him to get back on his feet-and to share their family’s obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles football team. When Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a mysterious girl with problems of her own, things get complicated. Tiffany offers to help Pat reconnect with his wife, but only if he’ll do something very important for her in return. As their deal plays out, an unexpected bond begins to form between them, and silver linings appear in both of their lives.

What kind of mental health issues are shown? Pat’s diagnosis is bipolar disorder. Others around him exhibit different types of overt issues. Grief, OCD, codependency, and sports mania are just a few that inhabit family members and friends.

How Well Are the Mental Health Issues Portrayed in Silver Linings Playbook?

James BerardinelliReelViews: “…If there’s a criticism to be leveled at Silver Linings Playbook, it’s that the mental illness elements recede into the background during the final half-hour to allow things to progress as a more conventional romantic comedy.”

Justin ChangVariety: “While the pic’s willingness to make light of Pat’s disorder may give some pause (at one point, he and Tiffany bond over which meds they have and haven’t taken), it doesn’t soft-pedal his journey to rock-bottom, and Russell’s technique so bristlingly evokes the character’s mental state that one feels sympathetically swept up in his experience rather than positioned outside it.”

What about Pat’s therapist? As it turns out, there’s very little of him (played by Anupam Kher) in the film.

Possible spoiler coming: Pat’s (and the audience’s) very first meeting of Patel immediately follows Pat’s violent response to hearing “My Cherie Amour” in the not-private waiting room. Pat confronts Patel about allowing to be played what is in fact his personal known-to-be-rage-triggering song, and the not-sensible, not-wise shrink admits he purposely did it in order to “test” him.

Not cool, in my humble clinical opinion.

Not a spoiler: Whereas on the more positive side, Dr. Patel does continually encourage Pat to make healthier choices…

Another spoiler alert, sparing you many of the details: …Patel’s not the best at his own choices. The eventual “dysfunctional” twist regarding this doc occurs outside the therapy office and is just one more in a never-ending string of movie depictions of unacceptable therapist boundaries that are never explained to the audience as such.

Feb 06

Post Football Depression: Super Bowl and Mental Health

I don’t normally associate the Super Bowl with any particular mental health issues—but Dr. Phil does. And he’s recently written about it in an article on “Post Football Depression Syndrome“: “SBS. Super Bowl Sunday. For most men, it makes their year. Unfortunately, for too many, the year ends the day after. PFDS, Post Football Depression Syndrome sets in and sets in with a vengeance. It begins the morning of February 6 this year…”

Apparently Dr. Phil sees post football depression not only as a male-only disorder but one that affects most men. Some women out there might actually resent this sexist view and will probably correctly perceive it as something devised to cope with PMS-envy. Some guys out there might want to argue that they suffer unfairly from Men Who Hate Football Stigma.

But in honor of the possible connection between the Super Bowl, mental health issues, and nonsense, I present today a clip from the movie Ace Ventura, Pet Detective (1994).

The eccentric pet detective Ace Ventura (Jim Carrey) is on the hunt for Ray Finkle, a former Miami Dolphins player who had been institutionalized years ago after causing his team to lose the Super Bowl. Although he’d then escaped and hasn’t been seen since, Ventura believes Finkle may now be responsible for the recent kidnapping of both the Dolphins mascot, Snowflake, and Dolphins player Dan Marino.

Ventura, pretending to be mentally ill, infiltrates the mental hospital where Finkle was once treated in order to secretly snuff out more info about him. His cohort Melissa (Courteney Cox), the Chief Publicist for the Dolphins, needs to find Snowflake soon—in time for the upcoming Super Bowl—or she’ll be fired.

Here’s Ventura’s over-the-top performance of what his version of a mental patient looks like:

Jan 30

“Bossypants” By Tina Fey, Comic Chronicler of Everyday Problems

Tina Fey‘s bestselling book Bossypants (2011) was released this month in paperback. As described in one review: “Bossypants gets to the heart of why Tina Fey remains universally adored: she embodies the hectic, too-many-things-to-juggle lifestyle we all have, but instead of complaining about it, she can just laugh it off” (Kevin Nguyen, Amazon.com).

Or, as Fey herself writes: “Because I am nothing if not an amazing businesswoman, I researched what kind of content makes for bestselling books. It turns out the answer is ‘one-night stands,’ drug addictions, and recipes. Here, we are out of luck. But I can offer you lurid tales of anxiety and cowardice.”

She says a number of things that I find quite relevant to self-growth and/or mental health issues. For example, on dealing with the childhood trauma of having her face slashed and permanently scarred by a stranger: “I accepted all the attention at face value and proceeded through life as if I really were extraordinary. I guess what I’m saying is, this has all been a wonderful misunderstanding.”

Other quotes from Bossypants on topics of interest:

“My ability to turn good news into anxiety is rivaled only by my ability to turn anxiety into chin acne.”

“You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it. You have to go down the chute.”

“There are no mistakes, only opportunities.”

“I keep my eyes on the sea, waiting to be rocketed into it on a wave of fire. I’ll be ready for it to happen and that way it won’t happen. It’s a burden, being able to control situations with my hyper-vigilance, but it’s my lot in life.”

In 2010, Fey became only the third woman to ever win the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, arguably the biggest award a comedian in the U.S. can receive. The award, which has been given annually since 1998, was given to Whoopi Goldberg in 2001 and Lily Tomlin in 2003.

When she gave her acceptance speech at the Mark Twain event, she directed the following remarks to her parents in the audience: “They say that funny people often come from a difficult childhood or a troubled family. So to my family, I say, ‘They’re giving me the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor! What did you animals do to me???”

Here’s a watch-worthy clip from her speech: