Friday, 30 November 2012

The Silver Linings Playbook: Book vs Film

It's that time of year when people (and by people I mean film-enthusiasts and award show nuts) begin to give serious consideration to Oscar season. What performances are likely to be getting nominated? What films? 

One that has snuck in relatively quietly of late is The Silver Linings Playbook, which sees Bradley Cooper play Pat, a man battling mental illness and trying to find the 'silver lining' in his life. Recently released from a mental institution and back home with his parents, Pat has only one goal - to be reunited with his estranged wife Nikki.

The book, written by Matthew Quick, is a stunning debut written from the mind of Pat Peoples and follows Pat as he struggles to adjust to life back home. Pat gets obsessive about his exercise regime - something he began in order to get in shape for Nikki - and every day is a constant battle with himself. A particular song triggers violent outbursts, he spends hours reading Nikki's school syllabus (also in order to impress her) and always says what he thinks - irrespective of just how wildly inappropriate it may be.

Along the way, Pat is reacquainted with old friend Ronnie and tries to rebuild his acrimonious relationship with his father, Pat Snr., whose moods depend entirely on whether his team is currently winning or losing. When Pat meets Ronnie's sister-in-law Tiffany at dinner one night, he is surprised to see that she may just have more issues than he does. Recently widowed, Tiffany is living in the extension behind her parents' house and has just been fired from work having slept with everyone in the office. She is lost and in need of direction.

Pat, by comparison, is an incredibly driven man. He has been given his freedom after spending a lengthy amount of time in an institution and believes that if he can better himself, he can win back his wife. However, the people around him are nervous and keeping things from him he is too afraid to really let register. Photos are hidden, his wedding video has been 'misplaced' and his friend now has a toddler he doesn't remember being born. It makes for captivating reading then when Tiffany begins to run with Pat - despite him telling her he doesn't want company. She sees what is happening around him while he runs on to his sole goal. She challenges him in a way nobody else does and forces him to look closer at what got him sent away in the first place.

What makes Quick's book so compelling is the witty, brutally honest and unashamed mind of Pat. Following his path from his own perspective means that the reader is as much in the dark as he is and this drives you on, much like Pat, to what you can only hope is Pat's silver lining. 

The film, on the other hand, looks more closely at both Pat and Tiffany whose backstory is equally fascinating. By looking at the pair of them together, a new dynamic is introduced. Of course, it helps immensely that Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence offer stunning performances (surely there will be an Oscar nod in there for at least one of them!), capturing all the elements of vulnerability, bipolar behaviours and fear, with care and elegance. Audiences get to see more of Tiffany's past trauma and her own instability. There is an endearing and often funny side to both of them, though the seriousness of their conditions is never ignored or swept aside, thanks largely to some brave directing from David O. Russell. Though the trailer had me worried, after it made the focus of the film the 'romance' between the two, the film itself manages to keep the romance second and the story first and is a much stronger feature as a result. 

The supporting cast all hold their own, with Robert De Niro showing that he has not lost his touch with all his recent comedy outings. His performance as the OCD-riddled Pat Snr. is heartbreaking. It would have been nice to have more of his backstory explored - as it is in the book - but the film is no worse for its absence, thanks to his stunning portrayal. It is also nice to see Danny, Pat's only friend from the institution, get more of an involved role in the adaptation. He is referenced more than he is seen in the book but with Chris Tucker bringing a troubled edge to the often comical role, the character gets developed.

It wasn't until watching the film that it became apparent just how much sport is referenced in the book. For those who - like me - really don't care or understand American sporting habits, the emphasis placed on the game did, at times, feel a little superfluous. It is relevant in the text as it goes a long way to explaining Pat's relationship with both his brother and psychiatrist. It also explains a lot more about Pat Snr. and his previous violent outbursts. However, Russell has wisely decided to trim this element dramatically in the film. He spends more time looking at the family watching sports or attending a game than actually going into all the intricacies of the game itself - something many film-fans will no doubt appreciate. Pat's enigmatic past is also explained far earlier in the film, with the reason he got sent away being divulged near the very beginning. 

All in all, a fair few changes have been made to the story for the film but in keeping mental illness as the centre of the story, Russell has managed to do the near-impossible and create an adaptation that keeps the feel and essence of the original while becoming a fantastic film in its own right.

Book - 4.5 FOBLES. Original, brave and compelling.
Film - 4.5 FOBLES. Honest, endearing and superbly acted.

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