Silver linings and second chances

By Chuck Sigars | Dec 05, 2012

I get optimistic in December, partly because of the holidays but mostly because it’s not November. Turning a negative into a positive sometimes just takes a calendar.

So after months of thinking I might not ever again leave my house with the intention of seeing a movie in an actual theater, I headed toward Seattle last Saturday to see “Silver Linings Playbook,” hoping that superheroes would stay in their own stupid movies for at least a couple of hours.

To be fair, there are several films currently playing that look and sound good, including “Argo,” “Flight,” and “Lincoln,” but I figured if I was going to spend $11 I might as well see a movie that had more than one word in the title.

I enjoyed it, too, this story of a man with mental health problems and complicated relationships, trying to construct a new start for himself and find his way home. It was something I could relate to.

“Silver Linings Playbook” was directed by David O. Russell, who made “The Fighter” and “Three Kings,” among others, and was sort of a pleasant mess, including a camera that seemed unmoored and sometimes unmanned.

There were three films, actually: A mildly claustrophobic look at blue-collar family dynamics (a little reminiscent of “Home For The Holidays,” to me), at least an attempt to portray mental illness in an integrated way (bipolar disorder, mostly), and then a basic romantic comedy, with the usual suspects.

I don’t think this was a failed attempt, just a deliberate style, and whether or not it would unsettle you is probably a matter of taste and your mood at the moment.

Me, I liked it. I didn’t mind the rom-com aspect, the inclusion of a well-worn plot device (in this case, a dance competition, although it could have easily been a karate match or a title game; you know the device), or the sudden whoosh of sentimentality; I was just a little surprised by it.

I laughed a lot, which is always nice, I was certainly familiar with a few portrayals of manic behavior (I’ve witnessed these monologues in my own home, oh yes), and watching a little love story set in December, sort of orbiting around Christmas? Absolutely, I enjoyed it.

I went with a friend I hadn’t seen in about six months, and I was also surprised by him, as he’d dropped about 70 pounds since June. This was a good thing, coming as it has after years of physical problems that limited his movement, changing an athletic life into a sedentary one, but it was also inspired by a doctor’s visit.

Apparently he had a mildly elevated blood pressure a few months ago and his physician put him on medication, which he wasn’t happy about. Eight weeks later, he’d lost 25 pounds and his BP had dropped drastically, something that apparently made his doctor laugh.

People just don’t do this, it turns out, don’t get a warning and a prescription and take action to turn things around. People are funny.

We talked about this, and about how I read a statistic recently suggesting that less than 4 percent of Americans exercise, despite all the doctors and the articles, but lives are also funny.

This man walks 7 miles a day, which has to take him a couple of hours. He has the time and a lifetime of exercise habits. He can eat as specifically as he wants, with no family to feed and look after. He has some advantages, or at least fewer complications.

So do I. Or different complications, let’s say. And a different lifetime, too.

This hasn’t prevented me from eating like a foolish person lately, some sort of post-Thanksgiving residue and relief from my own doctor visit a couple of weeks ago. Having not had a physical exam for several years, for unfortunate but maybe understandable reasons, this one was as unremarkable as a 54-year-old could realistically wish for.

I’ll admit to being a little giddy at a good cholesterol level, but to be fair I’m sure that’s mostly a genetic poker hand and not a healthy diet, which I do intend to pursue one of these days. Otherwise, I’ll come back in a year and try not to die in the interim.

But I know it could have been worse, and a few years ago it was. Unlike my friend, these were mostly self-inflicted wounds, and while luck played a part in turning these around, I was also fortunate to have friends and family on my side, as well as medical help, to point me in a better direction. I got a second chance, in other words.

And in a way, this is what “Silver Linings Playbook” is really about. We have specific challenges, physical and mental, emotional and situational. Trying to transfer my particular life across to yours would also be foolish.

I’d only suggest that there are surprises out there, once the concept of second chances takes hold. Like the main character in the movie, they might take you to unexpected places.

You might, even, end up dancing, surprised at your own grace, surprised to find out that grace has been there all along.

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