The Silver Linings Play…book vs. movie

silver linings movie poster The Silver Linings Play…book vs. movieCrossover 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, 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.

silver linings novel cover The Silver Linings Play…book vs. movieIn 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.

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About Shara Hardeson

Shara Hardeson is editorial assistant at The Horn Book Guide.

Comments

  1. Elissa Gershowitz Elissa Gershowitz says:

    Excellent assessment, Shara! But you forgot to mention how darn good-looking the stars are.
    I *liked* both characters so much more in the movie, which is very movie-like but, I agree, not necessarily how the author set up the book. To that point, a couple of the other changes I wondered about were having Pat beat up a racist instead of a drunk dad (the drunk-dad beat-down was so telling in the book!) and having him know about — and not be mad at — the letters. I do agree with the movie-version choices (those scenes could have come across as very melodramatic, or too drawn-out and hard to explain, onscreen), but it did make me think about the adaptation process. Oh! And the dance contest change was also pretty huge, but it had a great impact in the movie (though I didn’t believe the result for a second :) Also? Where was Kenny G?! That guy could probably use a royalty more than Stevie Wonder. And I was expecting many more chants of: B-I-R-D-S!
    I did appreciate the change in the book’s structure. I’d spent nearly the whole book thinking that NIkki was
    [spoiler alert]
    dead, and was glad the movie didn’t try to go down that path of having him slowly, painfully remember what happened.

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