Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick / Silver Linings Playbook directed by David O. Russell

I am definitely one of those people who always thinks the book is better than the film and when I get even a hint that someone is going to watch a film based on a novel, I tend to urge, nay harass them to read the book first.

Silver Linings Playbook is a fantastic book and I would definitely urge to you read it before you see the film. However, and it pains me to say this, I have concluded that, possibly, that this is one of those rare cases where the film is equal to, perhaps even slightly better than, the book (I am not ready to commit to saying that the film is definitely much better than the book yet).

In the book we are introduced to Pat Peoples, a man who has been in a mental health facility for a number of years, as he returns to his parents’ house and attempts to get his life back on track. Pat believes that his life is a movie directed by God and that his happy ending/silver lining is guaranteed; if he gets in shape, sorts himself out, gets strong both physically and emotionally, his wife Nikki will return to him and all will be well with the world. Then he meets Tiffany, a woman who has also suffered from mental illness, enters a dance competition and ends up having to reassess what silver linings mean to him.

The brilliant thing about this novel is that it deals with mental health issues in a light-hearted way without shying away from the seriousness of them. The character of Pat is brilliantly nuanced; Quick does not gloss over his more difficult behaviour and describes a violent incident in his past, as well as describing the difficulties he faces on a day-to-day basis, creating a complex, conflicted, very human character. Tiffany is an equally interesting character who has dealt with the death of her husband and clinical depression. There is a strong sense of redemption and recovery throughout the book, which is seen in both Pat and Tiffany but also Pat’s parents and friends. Pat’s father, in particular, is a character who struggles to accept things and evidently has issues of his own.

It is interesting to consider which aspects of Pat’s personality are due to his mental illness and which are personality traits: even though Pat’s belief in silver linings is indicative and perhaps a product of his illness, could we all learn something from his way of thinking?

My only issues with the book are the frequent mention of American Football (I am British, so it made little sense to me!) and also the fact that Pat’s voice occasionally becomes a little too childlike – almost bordering on the voice in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – which doesn’t quite ring true in terms of the nature of his mental breakdown and subsequent illness.

In the film, Pat becomes Solitano as opposed to Peoples, and is played by Bradley Cooper. I was a little dubious of Cooper in the role as I’d only ever seen him in “The Hangover” previously, but he plays the part brilliantly. Cooper is probably the main reason, for me, that the film works so well: he plays the part with such depth and vulnerability, and I think completely eradicates my gripe with Pat’s voice – in the film, it is pitch-perfect. Jennifer Lawrence plays Tiffany and is also brilliant (I have to admit, being a Hunger Games geek, I was already a Lawrence fan). One thing that I really like about Tiffany is that she refuses to apologise for herself. It becomes apparent that Tiffany has dealt with some of her feelings by sleeping around and initially, Pat labels her a “slut”, but Tiffany replies (I can’t find the exact quote) that she likes all aspects of herself, that she’s okay with it, and can Pat say the same? I really like Tiffany’s refusal to feel ashamed of her behaviour (why should she?), and it does make Pat think about how he views the behaviour of others and, indeed, how he views himself.

Robert De Niro is also brilliant as Pat’s father, who becomes less hostile and more complex in the film, developing possible Eagles-centric OCD. De Niro is one of the other major reasons, for me, that makes the film possibly-better-than-the-book.

The direction and cinematography are also really interesting. The shots, the lighting, the pacing, the dialogue; all slightly quirky, slightly not what you’d expect.

In the end, the film ends up being primarily an uplifting, light-hearted comedy about mental illness with some romance, but also an inventive bit of cinema. It’s not often a film does both.

Can anyone else think of any other films that are better than the book?

Book Review: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson/13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Firstly: spoiler alert. Don’t read this post if you have not read either of the above books and would like to! I will try not to ruin too much, but it will be difficult to avoid completely.

Last week, I finally got around to reading two books that have been on my “to read” list for ages: “Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson and “13 Reasons Why” by Jay Asher. Both books are frequently mentioned in the same online lists; both are frequently borrowed from the library by the same pupils; both are about “hard-hitting real-life issues”, these being rape and suicide respectively.

I absolutely loved “Speak”.

I absolutely hated “13 Reasons Why”.

I will start with the positives.

Speak

Speak is about a girl who has started high school barely speaking after an event over summer that isn’t immediately identified. As well as being evidently hugely tramatised by said event, Melinda’s friends thinks that she called the police on a party, thus she is ostracised and essentially becomes an outcast.

1. I loved the character of Melinda. Throughout the novel, there is a strong sense of her getting stronger, of her realising the gravity of what has happened to her. This growth and healing is mirrored in the art class metaphor of the tree, which is used throughout and works really well. Melinda is a victim, but she is also a regular high-school student. Anderson does a really good job of portraying humour and letting Melinda’s personality shine through, in spite of everything. It is interesting to read the reaction of Melinda’s peers to her “weird” behaviour and I think it does make you think about why people behave the way they do.

2. Anderson paints a really sharp picture of high school. It would be very easy to see all the characters who are horrible to Melinda for imagined reasons as one-dimensional nasties and stupid for not seeing what we see, but Anderson manages to make them seem human, as well as enabling us to condemn their behaviour. Heather is a a good friend in that she makes friends with Melinda in the beginning despite the fact that no one else wants to. We see her go from an accepting friend, to someone who wants to fit in and in doing so seems to forget the true meaning of friendship. I thought Heather was an interesting, abeit frustrating character who perfectly escapsulated that need to fit in during high school, that obsession with what everyone else thinks. Rachel/Rachelle is not a sympathetic character for the majority of the book and does some terrible things, but is evident that she too is struggling with her identity. Her reaction is important to understand and, I think, perfectly illustrates why this book is so important.

3. I have heard comments that the ending is too convenient and that many rape victims do not get a resolution and do not “speak”; they simply have to live with it. However, I think if Anderson had opted for a more realistic ending then the whole point of the novel would have been moot: that is, that speaking out about rape and sexual assault is important. Which it is. Anything that raises awareness of this is, in my opinion, a resolutely Good Thing.

I remember a little while back hearing about an American politician calling for “Speak” to be banned because it depicts “sex”, or words to that effect. I remember hearing the outcry over this, because it is a book about rape, and rape is not sex, and children need to know that it happens because they will almost definitely, in their lives, know someone very well who has been the victim of sexual assault. There was lots of talk about whether we should we want children to read about how the world should be (or how we’d like it to be), or how it really is? And the answer is, of course, both. Of course books should sometimes be a form of escapism and fun with it, but the world is not perfect and bad things do happen; fiction can be and is an incredibly important tool in educating children about how to deal with situations that arise in the real world. “Speak” is an excellent example of this type of fiction.

As Anderson herself puts it:

” […] censoring books that deal with difficult, adolescent issues does not protect anybody. Quite the opposite. It leaves kids in the darkness and makes them vulnerable. Censorship is the child of fear and the father of ignorance. Our children cannot afford to have the truth of the world withheld from them”.

13 Reasons Why

There probably aren’t thirteen reasons why I didn’t like this book, but there are a few:

1. Do people commit suicide for quantifiable reasons, or because they are mentally ill? Perhaps both. However….

2. Most of the time, people who commit suicide do not leave notes. Those left never know the reasons. The idea that if you kill yourself you can make everyone who ever wronged you sorry somehow, that they will all know what they did wrong and will feel bad, is simply not how it generally happens. When you commit suicide, that’s it. The end. Those who do it can forget about trying to control anything after they’re gone: they can’t. I feel that portraying suicide in the way Asher does here is dangerous because it makes it seem as though, through killing herself, Hannah has achieved a kind of “justice” against everyone who wronged her, by letting them know exactly what they did and letting them live with the guilt. In reality, suicide is generally an act of desperation by individuals who are so ill that they can’t think straight, let alone organise some kind of revenge-based scavenger hunt for completion after they are gone.

3. Mental illness can take away perspective and make an individual self-involved. However, I was troubled by Hannah’s treatment of Jessica; how, when she witnessed Jessica’s rape, she was only concerned with how it made her feel about things. There was only a passing thought of how Jessica’s life might have been ruined by events. And then she adds to Jessica’s woes by partially blaming her for the suicide! Perhaps Asher was trying to portray how depression become so big and all-defining that it takes away perspective, thus eats away at any semblance of a normal life, but due to the quantifiable “reasons” and the lack of understanding of mental illness that they show, I doubt it.

4. I didn’t really like any of the characters.

5. I understand that Asher was trying to make the reader think about how they treat people. It’s the whole “be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle” thing. That is a good message, I cannot argue with that. I simply think that the way in which it is done is distasteful.

Mental illness and suicide are important issues that fiction can deal with in a sensitive and understandable way – I think Asher sends an unrealistic and dangerous message with this book.

“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” is a particularly good example of a book that deals with these issues. Any other suggestions, please comment below!