Friday, August 16, 2013
The Silver Linings Playbook - Matthew Quick
It’s impossible to come at this one without the baggage of the film, even though I’ve yet to see it. Which is a bit unfortunate, because I feel like it might’ve had a bit more impact if I wasn’t imagining the very handsome Bradley Cooper as the should-be shell of a man Pat Peoples. Yes, there’s a fair bit of time spent on his near obsessive need for self betterment, but you know, if you're Bradley Cooper to begin with...? My suspension of disbelief has limits.
Lets take a few steps back. Pat Peoples (you could have any name in the world. Why this one?) is in a Bad Place, which his mother is in the process of extracting him from when the book opens. He’s been institutionalised following an undisclosed event, and has been preparing himself, ever since, for his reunion with his wife. Whilst the narration is first person, it manages to still inform the reader in no uncertain terms that this desired reunion will not happen. We know this straight off the bat, which makes Pat’s obsessive behavior - working out, running, sleeping in garbage bags to sweat out the fat - all the sadder. His entire motivation now is to get in shape, read more books, be kinder, over-tip waitresses - everything his ex-wife had criticised him for in the past - with the logic that if he fixes all his flaws, she would have no logical recourse but to resume their marriage.
Matthew Quick’s greatest talent I think lies in his ability to provide information on the surrounding characters and actions while not being limited by the fairly narrow scope of his narrator. Everything Pat sees is filtered through his rock solid optimism, even when he’s crying in a big heap. He’s nowhere near operational, lives in his parents basement and his father won’t even talk to him. His one lifeline is his mother, who is rapidly buckling under the pressure of trying to keep her adult son afloat. It’s sobering stuff, blessedly alleviated by some accidental and not so accidental moments of comedy - Pat’s first full-scale-wigout is brought on by the music of his “nemesis” Kenny G who he also has frequent nightmares about.
And then there is Tiffany, the equally unhinged sister-of-a-friend who is recovering from her husbands death. Painted as a few years older than Pat, I’m still a little perplexed as to why/how they ended up with Jennifer Lawrence (see?? this wouldn’t even have occurred to me if I hadn’t seen the trailers). She’s blatantly spiky, cantankerous and illogical character, almost immediately propositioning Pat and then bursting into tears, swearing and yelling at him then accompanying him for morning runs, regardless of whether or not he wants her to. She’s a far more dominant character than he is, and as such is the main engine moving the story forward.
And then there’s football. Oh lordy, if I’d realised how much of this story hinges on football (American football, not real football) I probably would have been a little more reluctant to read it. Football is the glue that holds the shambles of Pat’s family together: it’s the family passion and the basis for a lot of the conflict in the book. I don’t think not being able to follow an unfamiliar sport was an issue for me here, it was more the general illogical behavior of rabid sports fans of any genre that perplexed me in this circumstance (ITS OKAY, Jacinta, I mean like punching a hole in a TV kind of sports crazy). But it leads to some really nice moments between Pat and his equally Eagles-mad therapist, and is the barely-there thread that starts to repair his relationship with his father, so despite my general dissatisfaction with the concept it still serves its purpose.
Elsewhere the montage (there is an “in-book” montage - because Pat likens his life to a movie more than once, enthusing that there must be a happy ending) that covers the learning of the dance sequence is gloriously vivid and emotive. I’m particularly a fan of his initial response to a.) their dance music and b.) his costume.
I’ll reiterate that I haven’t seen the movie, but the final sequences out the front of a nativity scene are so cinematic I feel like I already have. For a book where the storyline is quite domestic and interior, Quick writes some great scene-setters for the handful of “outside” events.
I’ll admit I Wikipedia’d the movie to see how much they altered from the book, and as it turns out - quite a lot. There appears to be an entire subplot with Pat’s dad that has been created by the screenwriters and thus I’m a bit suspicious of. Definitely the book resolves itself in a sort of anti-resolution, where you can feel that things are a long way from fixed but perhaps a few small steps have been made. I have a suspicion that the movie’s tie-up is far cleaner.
As a very quick read and more-funny-than-you’d-expect tale of coming back from the brink, The Silver Linings Playbook is really fantastic. The only issues I had were tiny, tiny insignificant ones (Both Pat and his dad are called Pat. His friend Ronnie is married to a Veronica. CMON, make it easy on us), and ultimately the whole makes up for the occasional odd choice.