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.”

Jul 10

Stand Up for Mental Health: Comedy As a Form of Therapy

Most people think you have to be nuts to do stand up comedy…Counselor and Stand Up Comic David Granirer offers it as a form of therapy! Stand Up for Mental Health website

Many artists of all types, including comedians, have talked about their creativity being their chosen form of therapy. A few years ago comedian Kevin Hart, for example, said the following to an interviewer with AMC Theatres about performing comedy:

This is my therapy. You know. I didn’t talk about my mom passing away. I never talked about my dad being on drugs. I didn’t talk about my relationship status, and me going through a divorce — these are all things I had just held in, and I was very very reserved about. And it got to a point where I was like, you know what? I’m a comedian! My fans will respect me more when I’m honest. The more honest I am with them, the more of an open book I am, the more they can relate to me and the more they can say, ‘Hey, you know what? Dude, I like this guy. I relate to this guy. He doesn’t care. Nothing’s held back.’ It’s funny but at the same time it’s real. And by me putting my real life out there, I think I got the best of me.

Counselor and humorist David Granirer actually created a program called Stand Up For Mental Health in which people with mental health issues can learn how to do stand-up comedy as a form of therapy. In the video below called “Cracking Up,” some participants introduce us to it.

You’ll need over six minutes to watch this—but it’s worth it.

If this whets your comedy appreciation appetite, clips of individual routines that have emerged from this program are available on their website.

Below Granirer himself riffs to an audience on the topic of mental health stigma:

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 presented by his publisher:

Marc Maron was 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.

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:

Comedians give audiences thousands of trails into madness and neuroses. Publicly mapping a way out might be self-defeating for someone with a long-running stand-up career, and Paul Gilmartin’s way isn’t Marc Maron’s firestorm of old wounds and eventual atonement. 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

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?

James BerardinelliReelViews:

For the most part, the main character’s bipolar disorder is treated with respect – it is neither overblown nor used as fodder for juvenile humor…

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: The 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: