Previous Joints

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

No Silver Lining

As early as two weeks ago, I was belittling enraged comic book fans for what I believed to be their unreasonable attitude toward Iron Man 3. I feel like Karma has well and truly bit me up my chocolate tasty backside.

Game of Thrones has gotten so much outrageously positive reviews that I have tried very hard to stay away from it. So I made a silly rule that I will not watch any television program, or film for that matter, that has been based on a book without reading the said book first.  Again, this was all in the effort to avoid Game of Thrones because I knew it would take me a while to get round to reading those long ass things.

So along came Silver Lining Playbook.

I only got round to reading Silver Lining Playbook because it was recommended to me by my Kindle after I finished Jon Ronson’s Psychopath Test. Ronson’s book was kind of an eye-opener; it laid out in layman’s terms how fragile our understanding of mental illness is. Western society’s understanding of mental illness isn’t as concrete as I thought and it turns out that there maybe psychopaths wreaking havoc in high ranking public positions.

If Ronson’s book was an eye-opener, Michael Quick’s Silver Lining Playbook was an absolute revelation. I have never cried while reading a book in my life. Not only did Silver Lining Playbook make me cry, I was sobbing by the end of it. 

SLPB is a fantastic book for one clear reason – it’s very hard to read. I don’t mean that in terms of language and prose, I mean that in terms of how it deals with the subject matter of mental illness.

In the book, Pat People’s is a devastated man hanging on by a thread and that thread happens to be his wife - a woman that cheated on him and a woman that will never be part of his life ever again. Pat is such a fragile character - he is a broken man to the point where he isn’t even a man anymore. The book does a fantastic job of demonstrating this by the way it uses Pat’s narration and speaking style – Pat speaks as though he is a child. He has lost all sense of time (he has no clue how long he’s been in the mental hospital) and reality.

SLPB is essentially a story about how Pat builds his life up again, brick by heavy brick, with the help of American football, his friends and his family, especially his mother. His mother is a god-damn-hero in the book. She struggles every bit as much as Pat and is such an inspiring character. She not only looks after Pat, but she also looks after her husband who may also have a mental illness (it's only hinted at in the book).

The reason why this book doesn’t turn into a depressing orgy is because of Pat’s relationship with Tiffany. Reading about how their relationship develops is heart-warming, but I also feel like a sadistic voyeur watching two wounded animals trying to patch themselves up.

At the end of the book, Pat and Tiffany acknowledge that they needed each other (this is when I started to sob). And it’s that acknowledgment, after the hard graft of everything else that happens to them in the book, what makes Silver Lining Playbook special. The realisation that love isn’t like the movies and things don’t just sort themselves out with luck – love is a lot to do with luck and having someone there that is willing to stand by you, warts and all.

The problem with the film version of Silver Lining Playbook is that it almost ignores everything that made the book so special. In fact, the film plays out like the romantic film’s Pat fantasizes about in the book. There are no difficult explorations of mental illness and how it effects Pat's family. There is no real in depth look about how Pat has lost his grasp on reality and how he is struggling to battle his demons everyday. Even the subject of his marriage to Nikki is practically glossed over. Yes, all of these things are mentioned and hinted at but they are also quickly forgotten.

And as great as Jennifer Lawrence’s Tiffany is, she is just as woefully under developed as Bradley Cooper’s Pat. There is no real weight to any of the characters, no sense that they have been on a journey.

I’m not here to argue that SLPB isn’t a good film. It clearly is. It’s funny and very well acted, but it’s almost entirely forgettable.

Silver Lining Playbook is a hollow disappointment of a movie. I can almost hear Hollywood executives telling David O.Russell not to make the film too depressing, or too difficult for the audience. And importantly, I can hear the Hollywood machine making sure that this film has a clear cut happy ending.

Silver Lining Playbook should have been a 3 hour film, but I’m not sure it would have done so well if it was that long. We’re living in a time where America is blaming the mentally ill for the extreme public violence in their country; maybe a film that dealt with the subject matter more acutely could help the country’s understanding a bit more.