When Ben Affleck kissed his wife the other night, then went on stage to collect the Best Picture Oscar for his film “Argo,” we cheered wildly in Boston.
We are parochial by nature, and we have always claimed him and his buddy Matt Damon as our own since they burst onto the silver screen in “Good Will Hunting” back in 1997.
Affleck has already made a couple of very good films set in Boston, based on the novels of local writers, in Dennis Lehane’s “Gone Baby Gone” and in “The Town,” an adaptation of Chuck Hogan’s “Prince of Thieves.”
But less noticed on Oscar night was the success of another local guy made good, Matthew Quick, whose book “The Silver Linings Playbook” was the basis for David O. Russell’s marvelously moving film.
“Silver Linings Playbook” garnered eight Academy Award nominations, and Jennifer Lawrence won Best Actress for her portrayal of Tiffany, a woman suffering from mental illness.
That a film based on the struggles of people with mental illness and the families and friends who try to help them would receive such mainstream, critical acclaim is what makes Quick’s achievement a turning point in the culture, not just Hollywood hype.
Hollywood tends to play it safe and concentrate on making money. But every once in a while, Hollywood helps shatter taboos and at the very least gets people to leave the theater and start talking about subjects that were previously shrouded in stigma.
“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” did it for interracial relationships in 1967. “Philadelphia” did it for AIDS in 1993. And now “Silver Linings Playbook” has done it for mental illness.
Quick grew up in North Philadelphia, but married a woman from Holden, and they still live in that bucolic Central Massachusetts town. Quick is too modest to come right out and say that his book and the film have pushed the wider culture into at least acknowledging that we have done a lousy job in addressing mental health, as public policy and as personal policy. But he’s willing to admit that the embrace of popular culture is a good thing.
“I think it shows an appetite for discussing this,” Quick told me. “Everyone in the film came up to me at one point or another and told me about a situation in their family.”
Russell, the director, spoke movingly about his 18-year-old son Matthew’s struggles with bipolar disorder.
“That’s why I did the movie,” Russell said.
Quick’s writing was a form of medication for his own depression. The book is semi-autobiographical. Like Pat, the protagonist played in the film by Bradley Cooper, Quick was a high school teacher.
“I told my students that literature is the study of people, that we strive to develop a sense of empathy.”
If people who read his book or see the film come away more empathetic for people with mental illness and the people who struggle to care for them, Quick said, “I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
“People come up to me and say, ‘How did you know our story?’ ” he said. “It’s been liberating to realize how hungry people are to have these conversations.”
For too long people didn’t, and in many cases still don’t, want to have these conversations.
The stigma is enormous. The ignorance is worse.
“Some people in the mental health community were upset because they felt some in the audience were laughing at Pat, not with Pat. But I tell them: ‘They’re not bad people. They’re just ignorant.’ ”
Quick wasn’t bothered by the laughing audiences.
“My first job out of college was working in a classroom of kids with severe autism. We had to use restraints. We had a saying that if a staff member didn’t laugh the first day on the job, not at the person but at the absurdity of it all, they wouldn’t be back for a second day. Laughter is a release.”