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Silver Linings Playbook: When Great Books Make Great Movies

May 4, 2013

For months, I have not written a blog post. I wish I had a better excuse than laziness, but sadly I do not. I write a weekly blog for my law practice, and work has been extremely busy, so I will lean on these reasons as valid explanations. And now I’m back!

This week I’d like to talk about SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, which everyone should purchase immediately. I refer to the book and the movie. SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, the film, deserves props for pulling off a fantastic adaptation of a fantastic book, and anyone interested in writing or screenwriting should check them both out.

In SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, the novel, Pat has recently been released from a Maryland mental hospital, where he has spent the last several years due to an unfortunate incident involving his wife Nikki, a fellow teacher, nakedness, and white-hot rage. Now out and living with his parents, Pat is convinced he can get his wife back by showing her how much he has changed. He doesn’t understand that Nikki is gone forever, and that robbers didn’t really break into the house and steal his wedding pictures – his mother destroyed them because they’re creepy to have around.

Then Pat meets Tiffany, a woman whose mental state is marginally better than his. Tiffany promises Pat that if he agrees to participate in a dance competition with her, she will deliver a letter from Pat to Nikki. Their unusual courtship begins due to Pat’s blind pursuit of a woman long gone, but transforms into something more. They’re each a mess, but they help one another.

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, the novel, doesn’t have the necessary ingredients for a feature film. It’s quieter, more character-driven. It doesn’t share the film’s climatic ending, where Pat’s father has bet his entire life’s savings on the results of a Philadelphia/Cowboy’s game and Pat and Tiffany’s performance in the Benjamin Franklin Dance Competition. It’s a book about a man’s journey to get his shit together, and while it’s powerful and emotional, it doesn’t scream “blockbuster.”

With a bit of shaping, however, screenwriter David O. Russell turned it into one. I have very rarely encountered a movie that is just as good as the wonderful book from which it is adapted, and this makes the list. (Other books/movies on the list include: HIGH FIDELITY by Nick Hornby, an English novel which was Americanized in the 1999 John Cusack film; THE CIDER HOUSE RULES by John Irving, which was drastically condensed – including both plot points and characters- in the screenplay, also written by Mr. Irving; and THE STAND by Stephen King, which is a 1300+ page masterpiece that was turned into a wildly entertaining mini-series in the mid-1990s).

I generally hate watching movies that are adaptations of books I love, especially when the screenwriter has taken major liberties (and therefore risks) with the plot. Here, Mr. Russell’s cuts and alterations pay off – Tiffany’s age is altered from 39 to mid-20s, and we get Jennifer Lawrence’s Oscar-winning performance; Pat’s dad changes from an absentee jerk to a soft-hearted Italiano, and we get Robert DeNiro’s likable and emphatic Patricio; and other characters’ roles are marginalized or expanded to suit the plot points.

Nothing was sacrificed in exchange, and that is what is important. We still feel Pat’s pain, and we still see the chemistry between Pat and Tiffany. We emphasize with a family dealing with Pat’s mental illness. That is the difference between an adaptation that works and one that doesn’t: whether the essence of the original remains intact. Here, this is a particular accomplishment because of the free flow of ideas that run through Pat’s mind in the novel. Pat does not narrate the film, so we are not right in his head.

If you have not both seen SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK and read the novel by Nathan Quick, I urge you to do so. These present a rare gift for the audience: two works with the same soul but so well suited for their respective mediums. And so very, very good.


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