The Silver Linings Play, er, Movie

SLPBRecently, I spent a couple hours at the local cineplex taking in The Silver Linings Playbook. The movie, starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Bobby Deniro, was written and directed by David O. Russell. It was also based on the novel The Silver Linings Playbook, written by Matthew Quick.

I’m a fan of Quick’s and was a huge fan of this book, when a few years ago my old blogging buddy Angela suggested I send the manuscript for The First Annual Grand Prairie Rabbit Festival to him. Full disclosure, a brief bromance blossomed. We even had drinks in Philly once.

All of which is to say that I went into this movie feeling, perhaps, protective. Now, I wasn’t like a teenage Harry Potter fan, ready to cast death spells (or whatever) if the movie wasn’t up to snuff. But I had concerns.

Most of those concerns quickly vanished. I liked the movie a great deal. There was some talk about Bradley Cooper being too hot for the role, Jennifer Lawrence being too young. Cooper, I’m glad to say, acted in this movie. As written, he fit the part. And Lawrence. Well, I’d gladly watch her mowing the lawn in a prison jumpsuit. Of course, I’d rather watch her mowing it in a pair of Daisy Dukes. (Hmmmm. Jennifer Lawrence as Daisy Duke in a gritty remake of Dukes of Hazzard. She’s actually the brains behind the moonshining operation and not even related to Bo and Luke, so there are all kinds of hot ….)

Wait. Where was I? Oh, the movie. Loved it. But as I sat there watching, I was thinking, “Man, it feels like a lot was changed.” There was the obvious: Pat Peoples is now Pat Solitano, the family now Italian American. Things were streamlined and tweaked. The dance number was entirely different and the Eagles fandom, believe it or not, was downplayed in the movie. The father had a much more redemptive role. But there was more, I thought.

So I went back and re-read the novel. And, yeah, buddy, quite a bit was changed. A lot of it was in the service of the movie, I’d say. Some things, like a couple of mentally unstable people doing a dance routine to “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” might be just too much for a movie. Perhaps movie fans demand a little more emotional closure with the father figure.

But the biggest change was in the nature of Pat–and his problems. In both novel and movie, Pat is struggling with mental issues and attempting to win back his wife. He’s prone to burst of anger and violence as he all but forces himself to keep an optimistic outlook. In the movie, this is voiced simply as a quest for optimism. In the book, the optimism is layered with an effort “to be kind rather than right.” He’s on medication in both.

In the movie, however, Pat’s condition is pretty much a clear case of bipolar disorder. And the viewer is lead to believe that he’s struggled with it his entire life–and that it, among other things, may have contributed to the incident with his ex-wife. Indeed, the emotionally satisfying scene between Pat and his old man is centered on the fact that the family has struggled with Pat’s illness for his entire life.

In the book, on the other hand, it seems that Pat’s facing something different, that he’s had some sort of severe brain trauma received in the incident with his ex-wife. He often mentions that he wasn’t the perfect husband prior to the incident, but he’s also not the most reliable narrator and the reader — well, this one — assumes that his ex-wife was someone who married too young and was treating her husband pretty badly.

In both cases, of course, there’s a mental illness at hand–and a guy who’s delusional and suffering. And he’s coping thanks to state-mandated therapy visits and a course of medication. Book and film make it clear that both of these courses are necessary. Pat tolerates the therapy well enough, but bucks against the meds. Like many people who need them, he says they make him cloudy, or slow, etc. But neither version lets him off the hook. (If you’d like to see a movie reviewer beclown himself, Google The New Yorker review for Silver Linings Playbook. The reviewer rants that here we have another movie in which the slightly crazy free spirit just decides he can go it on his own without the medications and we’re supposed to cheer the rugged individual. This is a valid argument in general, but in terms of the movie? Perhaps this reviewer went to take a leak during the key scene in which Pat decides his pills are a necessity.)

I’m babbling here, but I found it odd that of all the cosmetic changes made in transition between book and film, that’s the one that stuck with me. (Well, that and “Total Eclipse of the Heart” being dropped; I can’t quite forgive that.) Ultimately, though, for all its changes, the movie kept the spirit of the novel — which is a hard trick to pull off. Russell and the gang deserve all the accolades and Golden Globes and Oscar nominations coming to them.

But the novel was still better.

Bonus note: The other thing I like about the novel was that it was set in 2007, if I’m not mistaken. Much is made over the Eagles making it to the playoffs. They did! The book ends at that point in the season. But we all know what happened in the playoffs.

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