Monday, 18 August 2014

The Silver Linings Playbook - Matthew Quick

Silver Linings Playbook has been on both my TBR and movie lists for a while now. I was determined to read the book before seeing the movie (as I usually prefer to do). Billed as a comedy/drama, I had heard from a colleague about how accurately the movie portrayed bipolar disorder and that her partner, a practising counsellor, highly recommended it.

Written in 2008, The Silver Linings Playbook is the debut novel of American author Matthew Quick. It begins when the main character, Pat Peoples, is being released from a mental institution, referred to as 'the bad place', into his mother's care. Pat has little concept of how he came to be in the bad place and is unsure about how long he's been there, but his determination toward self-improvement so his ex-wife, Nikki, will return to him once their 'apart time' is over is the driving force for the novel. He develops some extreme behaviours as part of his self-improvement, some of which are endearing while others border on being disturbing.

But it's not funny at all. The humour, if you could call it that, is deeply poignant and almost tragically sad. That's not a criticism in any way; the writing style is clever and conveys through Pat's internal dialogue far more than overt words could reveal. Pat's condition is never named in the novel and doesn't actually need to be; its complexity is subtly introduced rather than boldly announced. The reader figures out that apart time is never intended to end. Ever. And there are very good reasons for apart time, even if Pat doesn't realise what they are. The twist is finally revealed in the final two chapters, when suddenly everything makes sense.

And that's what I found so hard about watching the Silver Linings Playbook (2012) movie. A complex set of circumstances gradually revealed throughout the novel's plot is bluntly hammered out within the first few minutes of the movie, establishing a whole new story. There is a new gambling subplot and various changes in characters, their relationships and prominence. The dance competition is merely another part of Pat's journey in the book and not the climactic ending it became in the movie. Pat's relationship with his father is the polar opposite of the one portrayed in the book, where Pat's dad is cold, closed and incredibly disconnected. It loses the subtlety of Pat's disorder, which is only ever hinted at in the book; naming the disorder itself is not important but becomes the main focal point - and that's a shame.

The movie was basically a collection of a few carefully constructed characters, sub plots and events rearranged and exaggerated for the purpose of entertaining an audience, rather than invoking thinking or reflection. Also, it tried to ruin one of my favourite songs ever. Perhaps the movie should have been renamed instead of keeping the original title, which suggested it was an adaptation of the original novel?

My recommendation: read the book and watch the movie but treat them as standalone, separate pieces of work.

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