Most people who proclaim that ‘The book is so much better than the movie!’ … ‘You really ought to read the book first’ or vice versa usually harbor very strong opinions about one version of the text over the other.
None of that applies to me in regards to Silver Linings Playbook.
I have now read the book (well, listened to the audiobook) and seen the film. And while I have a number of feelings about their numerous differences I really don’t feel strongly in favor of one medium. And that is not to say that I did not like the two, both overall and in their own ways.
My experience with Silver Linings Playbook is as follows. Upon seeing the trailers for the film I was intrigued – football, dancing, crazy people, some humor, Bradley Cooper being serious. For some reason, however, it seemed like the type of adapted-from-a-novel story that would be even more interesting in print. So, again for some unknown reason, I committed not to see the film and rather download the audiobook (Audible.com really is the best). I finished the book quickly on a couple long drives and had subsequently not gotten around to seeing the film until late Sunday night.
(And from here on out I guess all normal spoiler rules apply. I don’t intent to maliciously ruin any plot points but if somehow I wasn’t the last one to see this – as the all but empty theater suggested – then watch out, I might ruin it all for you.)
I probably would never have gotten around to watching the film version if it was not being so widely praised and up for so many awards. After listening to the book (more on that later) I could not quite imagine how that story was translating to a film that was being treated with such a warm reception. I needed to see how this apparent masterpiece of adaptation had been worked.
My first impression upon seeing the movie was just how different it was from the book. Of course any adaptation, especially from a book with strong first person narration, will require some changes but in Silver Linings Playbook they just kept adding up as the film went on. Eventually it’s almost as if the two versions of the story exist in parallel universes: There are the same characters with (for the most part) all the same flaws and motivations, living in the same location and hitting some of the same key events, but at times they do things in completely opposite ways.
Some notable differences:
- Timeline of revelations: The information about what sort of craziness Pat and Tiffany are dealing with – their origin stories per se – are given to the audience much more upfront in the film. In the novel we don’t know what happened to Pat to send him over the edge or what happened to Tiffany’s husband until much later on. This is not necessarily a bad thing it just changes the lens we view their relationship through, from wondering what made them like this to wondering how they will interact and cope.
- Football: If the movie left you wanting for more football then check out the book. In the film version it seemed as if Eagles football was in the background or on the periphery whereas in the novel it is the blood that courses through the heart of the story. Obviously more football scenes would have wasted valuable time that the film didn’t have, but the minimizing of this part of the story certainly changed Pat’s character for me. In the film the Eagles seem to be something our protagonist likes by default – wearing the jersey, tailgating – but doesn’t really care about as much as everyone else – going for runs during games. In the book, however, Pat lives and breathes for the Eagles, with the team a constant topic of his thoughts and conversation. The scene that stood out to me in this contrast was when Pat’s mom gives him the newspaper his dad wanted him to read. In the book this is a huge moment because it signals that his dad want Pat to be well-read on the team so they can share a bond over discussing the fine details. Book-Pat even comments that this is a gesture his dad has never extended before. In the film, however, Pat brushes off the gesture saying that he does not have time because of his dance preparation.
- The parlay/gambling: The book doesn’t have any gambling plot points and because of the above importance of the football games doesn’t really need that extra incentive. It’s a change that helps to up the stakes of the film and make the dance competition a true climax. Again, not necessarily a bad thing, it led to probably my favorite scene of the movie when their excitement at the 5.0 is contrasted with the other competitors.
- The dance competition: Aside from the stakes being raised with the bet, the details of the dance competition are very different in the two versions. I won’t completely spoil it since it is a little bit of a twist in the book, but the importance/level of competition turn out to be extremely lower than in the film. I was also surprised by the choices to have Tiffany show weakness and doubt just before the competition whereas in the book she is the rock when it comes to dancing and has a crushing focus on this competition.
- There’s more I could say but I think I’ve made the general point that the story hits some of the same beats but in very different ways during the two tellings.
A lot of these choices are, of course, motivated by the difference in medium and storytelling tactics. A novel has time to play out and unravel story lines more slowly in a way that would allow movie audiences to lose interest and give up.
I found the book to be a very interesting character story about Pat and his sickness. The prose, led by his first-person narration, is almost neurotic at times with detail and explanation, a writing device that does an excellent job of making you truly connect with Pat. If you found that portion of the film interesting and want more of his craziness, how crazy he is and how he tries to handle it then you would enjoy the book.
I applaud the adaptation for turning this off-beat story into such a neatly rounded and enjoyable romantic comedy. Because that is what the film version of Silver Linings Playbook does, flattens some areas of the book and fleshes out others to make a very complete story.
The film is supported by amazing performances from just about everyone involved. Bradley Cooper nails a serious role most people probably thought he couldn’t. Jennifer Lawrence did a tremendous job vacillating from sweet to a terrible user of others to vulnerable. Tiffany’s character has some differences between the two versions but I think Lawrence’s performance warrants her character being more of a co-protagonist rather than a sidekick like she is at times in the book. (I did however find the scene when she suddenly goes from hating sports to knowing everything about them to be odd, out of place and off-putting, though through no fault of Lawrence.) Robert De Niro does well as a father whose character has been made much more likable in the film. One of the biggest changes in the movie is how much of an a-hole Pat’s father is not. It would have been interesting to see De Niro play that type of cold, almost villainous, unloving role and see how well he did with it (probably still great) but there was absolutely no time (for better or worse) in the film for the side-story of the parents’ troubled marriage.
I also believe that much of what has made the film so well received has been an excellent job technically. I think that it was shot in a way that made it feel more personal and human, only enhancing the connection we felt to these ultimately heartwarming characters.
As I thought about it last night, I left the film feeling more satisfied with the ending. As the medium tends to do, the film sanded off many of the rough, extraneous edges and left you feeling warm inside like Pat with Tiffany sitting on his lap.
Which will I probably end up revisiting? The movie – it’s certainly something I’d watch if on TV or Netflix. Which did I find to be a more intriguing and complex story? The book – which put us inside the head of a troubled person and gave a fuller sense of his sickness and his struggles.
When I read it I thought the book was good, not great; and despite all their differences I ended up feeling almost the exact same about the film. Both tell interesting stories while employing some unique technical devices but neither transcend above solid and enjoyable – not that that’s a bad thing; One thing I share with Pat is a soft spot for a nice, enjoyable story.
Reading music: Alabama Shakes since they were excellent on SNL this weekend and the credits of Silver Linings Playbook are set to this song.