January 31, 2013

I believe in happy endings: How ‘The Silver Linings Playbook’ compares from book to film

So here’s the process: You read a book, and fall in love it with. The plot, with all of its peaks and troughs, is exciting and suspenseful. You identify with its characters; they speak to you, and you find something within each of them that is human and real.  And you think, that would make a great movie.

A scriptwriter comes on board and the adaptation process begins. Part and parcel with this process is that certain plot points have to be let go. It’s understandable, inevitable. After all, a film does not have the luxury of exponential time – it is not possible to explore every nuance that is presented on the page. But you can make up for any loss in character development by providing the audience with new and powerful visual messages.

I get all of this. I understand the process. Film is an entirely different medium, and so things much change. What I don’t understand is the decision to change EVERYTHING.

Silver Linings Playbook is a terrific film. It is powerful, and emotional, and funny. It shows all the sides of humanity that a majority of the population prefers to ignore. The performances of the actors are fantastic – it is clear for anyone to see why Jennifer Lawrence is receiving so many accolades. She is brilliant.

In a standalone sense, this film is infallible. But as an adaptation, it is… disappointing.

When I picked up Matthew Quirk’s novel, I found Pat Peoples – a 35-year-old former history teacher who, due to suffering an immense trauma, was forced to live in a mental institution.

Pat was kind, and endearing. Despite his age, his innocent stream-of-conscious tone of voice was immediately reminiscent of a number of books that I had reviewed recently; books such as Life of Pi by Yann Martel (2002), Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer (2005) and The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (1999) – all of which had extremely bright, albeit extremely troubled and unreliable, narrators.

Pat Peoples could have been a grown up Charlie from The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Like Charlie, Pat found the occasion to read The Catcher in the Rye, and admitted that he identified Holden Caulfield – yet another famously unreliable literary character.

The character played by Bradley Cooper in the 2012 film Silver Linings Playbook is no Pat Peoples. He has been renamed Pat Solitano. (I suspect the name was deliberately Italianised, to allow Robert De Niro to play the role of 'Patricio', Patrick's father.)

Beyond the name, is the feeling that you get from this character; he has a similar past and a similar future to Pat Peoples, but none of the same emotion. Where Pat Peoples is naïve and innocent, Pat Solitano is angry and bitter. Where Pat Peoples cries with Tiffany on the street, Pat Solitano shows no empathy. Where Pat Peoples is hopeful about his silver lining, Pat Solitano lectures about the benefits of positive thinking while putting none of it to practice himself.

And its not just Pat – the motivations and perceptions of EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER in the movie have deviated from their original source.

In the book, Patrick Senior's passion for the Eagles is not motivated by money, or by OCD-like obsessions. He genuinely loves the Eagles, and his very happiness depends on their success.

When Tiffany deceives Pat in the film, it comes across as if it was a spur of the moment, acting on opportunity kind of thing – whereas in the book her actions were deliberate and calculated.

In creating this film, Director and Screenwriter David O. Russell took a book that succeeds in gripping you on the very first page and strips of it everything but its bare bones. The original story is still there, it is still recognisable – but there were SO MANY times that I sat in the cinema and shook my head and thought ‘that’s not right!’

The Silver Linings Playbook is the kind of novel that makes you Google the author to find out what else he’s written – just in case there are any other gems out there, waiting for you to pick them up. (I’ll save you the inevitable trouble: Matthew Quick has also written Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock; Sorta Like a Rockstar; and Boy 21.)

The film Silver Linings Playbook is also brilliant. Go and see it. But if you have already read the book, be prepared – this film will not provide an opportunity to relive all of your beloved characters in a bout of divine escapism. You will probably be sitting there like me, making a mental checklist of all the things that have been changed.

The verdict:

How does the film rate? 5/5

How does the film rate as an adaptation? 1/5

Total score: 6/10

Book or Big Screen? Book

Coming up soon: A review of Anna Karenina. (Really. It’s coming. Just waiting for the film to be released here in Australia!)


  1. Just because I like the actors I'll see this one but I've a feeling it won't be my most favorite romantic-drama. Just because when critics praise it, usually it doesn't bode well for me. :)

  2. Yep, I completely agree with your review! My husband and I were so disappointed in the film, because it just didn't capture the feeling of the book.

    Thanks for your comments on my review, too!

  3. Pat Peoples wore a Hank Basset jersey, and movie Pat wore a Deshaun Jackson jersey, I suppose it was because Jackson is more well known than Basset. I also did not like the ending of the movie. I don't believe Nikki ever actually showed up at the recital, and a key point in the ending of the book was that the competition was never actually scored, and every contestant came away as equals.

    I enjoyed the book way more than the movie.