Crossover writer Matthew Quick, author of young adult novels Sorta Like a Rock Star, Boy 21, and the soon-to-be-released Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, made his debut in 2008 with The Silver Linings Playbook (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux), an adult title you may have heard a little something about. It was adapted for the screen in late 2012 (The Weinstein Company, December 2012; R), and the adaptation then nominated for some Oscars (eight to be exact) with one win for Katniss — I mean Jennifer Lawrence — as Best Actress. The monumental success of the film brought Quick’s first book back into the spotlight, and when I recently unearthed a paperback copy of it from one of the many Horn Book boxes, I jumped at the chance to compare book to movie.
Though the film contains many innocuous minor differences from the book, the basics remain the same. All protagonist Pat wants is to be reunited with his estranged wife, Nikki. Upon release from a mental health facility, Pat spends his time obsessively exercising, reading literary classics, and generally trying to better himself to win Nikki back, but his easily triggered outbursts, aggressive behavior, and violent tendencies complicate things. Family devotion to the Philadelphia Eagles, a dance contest with a charming, yet unstable widow named Tiffany, and the occasional therapy session challenge Pat at every turn. Clinging to the notion that every cloud has a silver lining, Pat attempts to will himself healthy and happy, despite the many obstacles he faces.
In the novel, Pat’s psychological struggles ring true because of his first-person narrative attempts to explain himself, particularly during his mood swings, as though he doesn’t trust the reader to understand him (which seems a legitimate fear for anyone suffering from mental illness). Pat tries to convince readers of his good intentions, but often Quick allows him to take his behavior a step too far, revealing something problematic about Pat’s perspective and reminding readers that his narration, while compelling, isn’t totally reliable. Readers will believe in Pat’s earnestness and root for his happy-movie ending — even as, with tongue firmly in cheek, Quick interrogates and ultimately rejects the notions that a) mental health issues can be addressed with a simple attitude adjustment, and b) life is anything like the movies.
Unfortunately, the film — an enjoyable dramedy featuring fierce performances — boils down the complexities of Pat, other characters, and their relationships. Pat remains likeable, but in translation from print to film, the glimpse into his internal view of his own mental illness is lost. Similarly, his parents are reduced to a coddling mother and a superstitious sports-fan father, both nutty in their own ways. Instead of the novel’s poignant examination of the intricacies of love, grief, and mental illness, we’re left with the tidy conclusion that we’re all a little crazy, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be happy — exactly the kind of Hollywood ending I believe Quick is skeptical of.