Jul 082013
 

silver-linings-playbookBy Richard Bon

I watched the movie before reading the Matthew Quick novel, and found both very entertaining. While watching the movie, one scene and one late plot wrinkle bothered me, so I was very pleased when I read the book and found the scene portrayed differently and the plot wrinkle nonexistent. The first problem for me was the fight during an Eagles game tailgate at Lincoln Financial Field and the second was the bet made in the film by Pat Sr. (the protagonist’s father, played by Robert De Niro) with his supposed friend, Randy (played by Paul Herman).

In the movie, the impetus for the pre-game parking lot fight is just plain unfair and defamatory to Philadelphia Eagles fans everywhere. I felt this way the moment I saw it, before having read the book, so it’s not as if I was able to feel at the time that it suffered by comparison. Rather, I just thought right away that the filmmakers got it wrong and I hoped that Quick wasn’t the one who made the mistake, as I expected his writing to be more authentic in its treatment of Philadelphia fans. The way the scene occurs in the movie, a random Eagles fan approaches Pat’s brother’s tailgate and pushes Dr. Cliff Patel (played by Anupam Kher), Pat’s Indian therapist and friend, because Dr. Cliff and his friends are brown skinned and cooking with curry. Even though Dr. Cliff and his Asian crew are all hardcore Eagles fans, with a green painted bus and everything, a young, fellow Eagles fan just passing by feels the need to not only chirp racist comments at them, but to physically assault middle aged Dr. Patel.

While I’d like to think that most Eagles fans are not racist, I’ll admit that it’s not improbable for some young, drunk Eagles fan to drop some ethnic slurs. Heck, I’ll even admit that while the ones I know aren’t, plenty of Eagles fans surely are racist and that at an event as large as a sold out NFL game, there are bound to be a fair share of racist people in attendance. What bothers me so much about the random fan’s unprovoked attack of Dr. Cliff is that both the random fan and Dr. Cliff are wearing Eagles green. If either the random guy or Dr. Cliff were a fan of the visiting team, then the fight would be believable. In fact, even if the young instigator were the most open-minded, accepting Eagles fan on the planet, he could be believed to act like a racist when faced with a fan of the opposing team in certain situations. But upon encountering the aroma of commonly used Asian spices emanating from a big, green bus, and seeing people of any race surrounding the bus in their Eagles jerseys, all a stereotypical, random young Eagles fan would do is give the “E-A-G-L-E-S EAGLES!” chant found so often throughout both the movie and the book. An Eagles fan wouldn’t pick a fight with another Eagles fan before a game just to express his or her racist tendencies, period. Add some other factor into the mix, like Dr. Cliff hitting on the young random fan’s girlfriend or something like that (not that Dr. Cliff ever would’ve done something like that), and then all bets are off – racist attitudes could come to light and fisticuffs could ensue. But for an Eagles fan to simply approach another Eagles fan of a different skin color and assault him for no reason? Not only am I not buying it, I find it insulting to a city whose sports fans catch enough well deserved flack that they don’t deserve to be mischaracterized in a blockbuster film with such extensive exposure.

In the book, a strongly built Giants fan starts a fight with Pat after he doesn’t like the way Pat’s brother’s tailgate crew chant an anti-Giants mantra so intensely that the Giants fan’s son starts to cry. Pat is forced to defend himself and the conflict leads him to a troubled mental state. Written in this way by Quick, the fight is entirely believable. The verbal abuse doled out by Pat’s brother’s friends, the Giants fan’s physical reaction, and the subsequent fight in which Pat unwittingly participates all ring true to real life, and Quick effectively uses the scene to show readers Pat’s state of mind and the processes through which he’s attempting to recover his mental health and grow as a person. Clearly Quick went to an Eagles game or two back when he attended La Salle and/or taught at Haddonfield High. I just wish he’d vetoed the movie producers’ alteration of the tailgate fight scene he wrote, and saved moviegoers from the derogatory misrepresentation of Eagles fans they perpetrated upon us.

The second part of the movie that struck me negatively was the bet made between Pat Sr. and his friend and partner in Sunday NFL football watching, Randy, over the final dance competition in which Pat (played by Bradley Cooper) and Tiffany (played by Jennifer Lawrence, who of course won the Oscar for Best Actress and the attention of men around the world for the role) participate. It’s bad enough that they decided to make Pat Sr. a bookie in the movie instead of a mid-level manager for a grocery store chain like he is in the novel, but they had to make him a reckless bookie to boot. While De Niro plays the role perfectly, the “Hollywoodization” of his character goes too far when he bets all of his savings on an Eagles win over the rival Cowboys, Randy’s favorite team, and a minimum average score from the official judges of Pat and Tiffany’s competitive dance. For him to bet on the Eagles vs. Cowboys game makes sense – lots of people bet on games. But to bet all of his savings on the game? And what’s more, for his so called friend to accept the bet? To make matters worse, the bet isn’t just on the NFL game, it’s a combination bet that includes a minimum average score from professional dance competition judges for amateurs Pat and Tiffany, and Pat Sr. has never even so much as seen them lock arms. What? Sure, the story has a comedic element to it throughout, but it’s a serious story and then it culminates with an absolutely ridiculous bet that would never, ever be placed in real life? What were the movie makers thinking?

Mercifully, in the book, the bet is nowhere to be found. And in fact, the dance competition turns out to be a showcase for depressed people to express themselves through movement, not an event for professional dancers. I thought Quick handled the dance theme brilliantly in the novel, and they nearly got it right in the movie save for the preposterous, heavily burdened bet.

Aside from the two major complaints articulated above, I enjoyed watching the movie and didn’t mind having already seen it when I read the book shortly thereafter. Though I couldn’t quite bring myself to give the book five stars in my goodreads review, I loved it, and I like Matthew Quick’s writing style. I hope that when some of his other books are made into movies in the future, he either has more creative control over the adaptation or exercises said power more astutely. I don’t know how much control he had over the ‘Silver Linings’ movie, but entertaining as it was, it could’ve been better.

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Richard Bon is a guest contributor to PSC.  Check out his blog and other work at LiminalFiction.com.

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